Tank Recovery Vehicles
Most of the information on this page is courtesy of Joe DeMarco. Note: Some of the data was compiled using a technique informally referred to as "counting heads." It is based on the ongoing study of period documents and photographs, as well as surviving retrievers. Due to the limited nature of available reference sources, some of the information presented here must be considered as "educated guesswork."


Part 3 : Post-war Sherman Retrievers
Go to M32 series page


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We have seen WW II era photos of exactly 2 Tank Retrievers with E9 installed. Both were Baldwin M32B1 conversions. The Aberdeen Proving Ground photo above is dated June 22, 1945, and lists the vehicle as Serial Number 2143, the highest Tank Retriever serial number we have recorded. USA 3060795 is the original tank Registration Number, indicating that this unit was accepted in December, 1942 at Pacific Car & Foundry. Baldwin Locomotive is stated to have done 180 M32B1 (converted from M4A1s) and 37 M32A1B1 conversions. The "A1" inserted in the nomenclature indicates a retriever with HVSS installed. We came across a photo in the September, 1945 issue of Baldwin's company produced magazine which was datelined July, 1945 and captioned something like "The last Tank Recovery Vehicle produced by Baldwin." Unfortunately, we were not permitted to reproduce the photo, but the vehicle looked exactly like "Miss Tex", complete with a late production retriever addition - the "automatic tow hook" (1). Note that the APG information panel identifies this unit as an "M32A1B1." We would be happy to be proven wrong, but it is our theory that the 37 M32A1B1s officially listed as having been produced by Baldwin, did NOT have HVSS installed, but rather E9. Furthermore, we would interpolate that "Miss Tex" was the first of the 37 so called M32A1B1s, and that they would have been assigned Serial Numbers 2143 through 2179.


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Above provides a right-side view of "Miss Tex." The item that stands out in this photo is the "boom raising sheave" (top right). The standard tank retriever had a lifting drum attached to the right drive sprocket (bottom right) to raise and lower the boom. M32 series conversions had been approved only for VVSS Shermans. The tanks that the US Marines would use for the invasion of Japan were M4A3(75) and M4A3(105) with HVSS. For the sake of uniformity, in April 1945, the USMC requested 50 Tank Recovery Vehicles based on the M4A3 with HVSS. At the time, it was not known if the standard sprocket lifting drum configuration would work with 23 inch tracks, so Baldwin engineers replaced the drum with the boom raising sheave. In doing so, the available evidence suggests that Baldwin omitted the base plate for mounting the 81mm mortar between the hatches (red arrow) from the M32A1B1 design. In any case, in the Summer of 1945, Baldwin Locomotive and International Harvester completed 80 Tank Retriever conversions based on new production M4A3(105)HVSS Shermans pulled from the line at Chrysler. These conversions featured the boom raising sheave, and were given the nomenclature "T14E1."


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As mentioned earlier, the Marine Corps was provided with 20 M32B3s based on new production large hatch M4A3(75) Wet Stowage Shermans with Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS). Although it was the US Army's policy to employ used Shermans for its retriever conversion program, it was agreed that new tanks would be converted "in order to attain maximum interchangeability" with the M4A3(75) Wets issued to Marine Tank Battalions as part of their 1944 requirements. For their 1945 requirements, the Corps stated in August, 1944 that it would need an additional 50 M32B3s based on new production M4A3 Shermans. At first, there was no mention of Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension, but by the time the Ordnance Department approved of the request, all new M4A3 production featured HVSS. This created something of an issue, "Since the 23 " track and horizontal volute spring suspension have not been tested to determine their suitability for carrying the loads normally imposed on Tank Recovery Vehicles." Consequently, a pilot vehicle, "converted from a standard Tank Recovery Vehicle M32B3" was retrofitted with HVSS. Changes to the boom lifting device and some stowage items were incorporated, and on January 25, 1945, the Ordnance Committee designated the pilot as "Vehicle, Tank Recovery, T14." After trials were completed, the T14 pilot was retained by the Ordnance Department at APG for historical reference, and the photo above shows it there in March of 1949. The USA Registration Number is chalked on, and can be read as 40154986, indicating that the T14 was converted from M32B3 Serial Number 412, which we have featured in a number of previous captions. There has been some confusion about the T14, which might be partly to blame on this photo. Note that "M32A1" is stenciled on the side, and that the vehicle is labeled "M32A1" in the information panel. We would note that Serial Number 412 originally had a chute turret, but was retrofitted with the door turret seen here when converted to T14.


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Unfortunately, the T14 appears to have been scrapped in the 1950s, so is not available for study. Ordnance Committee Memorandum Item 26511, which designated the pilot as "Vehicle, Tank Recovery, T14," is dated January 25, 1945. The reference text states that, " A pilot vehicle is being built from an old vehicle..." From that, we would guess that M32B3 Serial Number 412 was converted to T14 starting in late 1944 or early 1945. The photo above shows the T14 with its boom raised in the forward position. Here we can see the "boom raising sheave" (arrow). It was thought that the 23 inch track width of the Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension system would cause interference issues with the lifting arm and drum of the original M32 series design. Consequently, these items were replaced with the boom raising sheave. The stabilizer plates of the original design were for the Vertical Volute Spring Suspension system. With the introduction of HVSS, these were rendered obsolete, and no longer carried on the left side of the glacis. Instead, according to author Richard Hunnicutt, "Adjustable rod type stabilizers were used to lock out the springs on the front and rear bogies during lifting operations."


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Above shows a rear view of the T14. As we have discussed, M32B3 Serial Number 412 was retrofitted with the Automatic Tow Hook Modification in the Fall of 1944. The hook became a standard fixture on the T14E1s, the follow up conversions done for the Marines, and based on new production M4A3s with HVSS. MWO G1-W25 cautioned that, "It will be necessary to remove the hook and frame assembly from the vehicle when the boom is to be used for hoisting operations in the forward positions." In our view, this would have been a serious limitation to the utility of the Automatic Tow Hook, since the heavy assembly would have to have been taken on and off repeatedly in order to perform the retriever's most common hoisting operation. The photo demonstrates how the tow hook, if not removed, would have to have been dragged behind the vehicle when the boom was deployed to the front. The towing pintle (1) was relocated from its usual position on the lower rear hull to between the A frame support sockets. This new location carried over to the T14E1s, most likely because it was stipulated that they would be equipped with "deep water fording equipment." The T14 was retrofitted with the armored exhaust deflector (2) that became standard on the M4A3 series in early 1945. Note the large muffler (3) running across the rear of the T14. For the planned invasion of Japan, both the US and Great Britain conducted tests with the purpose of "the reduction of the exhaust noise level" on the M32 series. It is obvious that some of these trials were conducted with the T14. However, in the end, the externally mounted "exhaust silencer" set up was not adopted for use on the T14E1s.


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The photo above was taken by the Chrysler Engineering Division in April, 1945. Again some confusion arises since the T14 is identified as an "M32B3" in the information panel. Chrysler designed new fittings for stowage of the snatch blocks on each side of the vehicle. These do NOT appear to have been adopted for the T14E1s. (We believe that the snatch blocks were stowed in the usual M32 series position on top of the chock blocks on the engine deck.) The "adjustable rod type stabilizers" mentioned by Mr. Hunnicutt are something of a mystery. We suspect that the item circled in red and shown larger in the inset, may be one of the four rod type stabilizers installed on the bogies just below the shock absorbers "to lock out the springs on the front and rear bogies during lifting operations." The evidence suggests that the T14E1 was designed to use the standard M32 tool box arrangement. However, the trial installation of the muffler/exhaust silencer on the T14 displaced the tool box mounted transversely on the rear engine deck. Perhaps to compensate for this, the side mounted tool boxes on the T14 pilot were made noticeably longer than the boxes seen on the M32 series and the T14E1.


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Above is an enlargement of the left side plan view of the T14. It is thought that the items circled in red were welded on to the front and rear bogie castings on both sides in order to hold the "adjustable rod type stabilizers." A close up view of one of the fittings as seen on a surviving T14E1 is shown in the inset. It is our theory that the T14 was the only retriever that was retrofitted with HVSS during WW II, and that the T14E1s were the only WW II era models that were converted from Shermans originally built with HVSS. Furthermore, we would speculate that the T14 pilot and the T14E1s were the only retrievers that utilized the "adjustable rod type stabilizers" with the special fittings welded to the bogies. The evidence seen on surviving examples suggests that post war M32 series retrievers that were retrofitted with HVSS used alternate stabilizer plates, which we will discuss going forward.


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Ordnance Committee Memorandum Item 26742, dated February 15, 1945, authorized "the Ordnance Dept. to provide the US Marine Corps in 1945 with 50 Tank Recovery Vehicles, M32B3 by conversion of new Medium Tanks, M4A3 rather than from remanufactured chassis." These were assigned a "separate designation" - "Vehicle, Recovery, Tank, T14E1." Ultimately, according to the December 1945 "Summary Report of Acceptances," 80 T14E1s were produced during the year 1945 - 30 by Baldwin Locomotive and 50 by International Harvester. We couldn't find any reliable information on the Baldwin units, but based on an Ordnance Department production document, it would appear that the 50 T14E1s converted by International Harvester were assigned Serial Numbers 3381 through 3430, and that these along with the Baldwin T14E1s retained their original tank USA Registration Numbers. Unfortunately, the only monthly production figures we could find have it that the first 12 T14E1s were converted by Baldwin in June, 1945. (We suspect Baldwin completed the remaining 18 in July.) These 30 were based on M4A3(105) Shermans that were ordered diverted from production at Chrysler in late April, 1945. The photo above is part of a series that shows what may have been the first T14E1 conversion at Baldwin Locomotive Works on June 27, 1945. The Registration Number was USA 30141107, indicating that it had been produced as an M4A3(105) at the beginning of June. While the boom raising sheave is not seen installed in the photo, the fittings that held it are circled. It is thought that all of the T14E1s were equipped with the automatic tow hook, and indeed it is seen fitted in the rear photo of this unit. Also, note the presence of the bridle assembly on the front. The T14E1s used "door" type turrets. The original spare road wheel fittings on M32 series turrets each held one VVSS type wheel. In this photo, one can see new turret fittings (1 and 2) that are capable of holding two HVSS type road wheels per fitting. The single spare road wheel fittings (3 and 4) on the front and rear of both sides of the hull, are also present on the T14 pilot, and can be seen in a few period photos of T14E1s. However, in a small number of photos, these side fittings are missing, and double fittings are seen on both sides of the upper rear hull plate instead.


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The first phase of the invasion of Japan was scheduled for November, 1945. Plans called for 3 Marine Tank Battalions to be equipped with M4A3(75) and M4A3(105)s with HVSS, with T14E1s providing recovery and maintenance support. In the post war years, some M4A3(105)s and T14E1s were retained by the USMC, while the M4A3(75)s were replaced with M26s by the time of the Korean War. The T14E1s do not appear to have been assigned new retriever Registration Numbers, but simply retained their original M4A3 tank USA Numbers. However, the Marines used their own numbering system. The photo above shows T14E1, USMC Number 103210, with an M4A3(105)HVSS in the background. The further away one gets from production, the more likely it is that changes will have been made to vehicles by base shops or depots or even simply by the preferences of crews. In this case, the only apparent spare road wheel stowage can be seen on the upper rear hull plate (1). Perhaps reflecting its limited utility, the automatic tow hook has been removed, although the extension assemblies (2) are "still" welded to the vehicle's A frame support sockets. The "Towing Hook Hanger Assembly" (3) also remains. The relocated pintle (4) appears to have been an exclusive feature of the T14 series. The T14E1s were ordered with "deep water fording equipment" as evidenced by the wading trunk in the previous photo. This was obviously removed from this unit, but note the weld scars running across the rear hull plate just above the armored exhaust deflector (5). The spare HVSS tracks (6) are stowed in what we would consider the standard T14E1 configuration. It differs slightly from the standard configuration seen on, say, the M4A3(105)HVSS. Note that the fittings (7) for the spare VVSS tracks are "still" present on the rear of the turret.


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This Korean War era photo shows a USMC T14E1 with some of its crew. The spare road wheel fittings are in the same locations as in the June 1945 Detroit Arsenal photo shown earlier. However, the crew (we would guess) has relocated 2 of the stowage boxes to the upper rear hull plate. The snatch block (1) and the hinged tow bar (2) are also in non standard positions on the side of the hull. Again the automatic tow hook has been removed, but the "Towing Hook Hanger Assembly" (3) is still present. If one can see only the hanger in a period photo, it is a clue that that the retriever was installed with the auto tow hook modification. Just barely visible are the special fittings (circled) welded to the front and rear bogies, presumably to hold the rod type stabilizers. The available evidence suggests that the external hinge brackets on both sides of the T14E1s were no longer welded on on an angle, but mounted vertically as seen here (4). This was no doubt due to the introduction of the boom raising sheave. However, we would note that the T14 pilot retained the original angled orientation of its external brackets.


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The retriever on display at the National War and Resistance Museum (Oorlogsmuseum) in Overloon, The Netherlands is believed to be the only T14E1 that has survived more or less intact. The boom raising sheave and the side roadwheel stowage are missing, but overall this unit is in remarkable condition. We examined this retriever just before it was shipped to Europe, at which time it had the boom raising sheave installed. In order to mount the 81mm mortar, it was necessary to either disconnect the sheave from the turret and fold it down as shown in the inset, or to remove it completely. Author Richard Hunnicutt wrote, "although retained on the pilot [T14], the 81mm mortar was eliminated from the later production models." We have an admittedly small number of survivors and period photos to work with, but we would judge that all of the T14E1s were factory equipped with the mortar and the necessary fittings to mount it on the front of the vehicle. The T14E1s were converted from M4A3s made in 1945, and consequently had the "late" glacis pattern, which featured the "short" bullet splash sections (1) in front of the drivers' auxiliary periscopes, along with the hull lifting rings mounted in the "outboard" position, very close to the edge of the glacis plate. As best we can determine, the only other large hatch welded hull retrievers done during WW II were the 12 M4A2s and 20 M4A3s converted for the USMC. The new Shermans converted by Lima would have been produced in the first half of 1944, and would have featured the "early" or "mid" glacis patterns. These would have had the hull lifting rings mounted in the "inboard" position, several inches in from the edge of the glacis.


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This right rear view shows some of the fittings for the automatic tow hook. The heavy duty tank recovery vehicle towing pintle (1) was not installed in the center of the lower rear hull as was standard on the M32 series. Instead, it was mounted in between the A frame support sockets. The towing pintle (2) seen welded to the center of the lower rear hull was standard on late production Shermans, and was probably retained on all of the T14E1s. Note the vertical orientation (3) of the right side external hinge bracket. The front and rear bogies have the "special fittings" welded on (we've circled one). We would assume that the T14E1s were equipped with "T14E1" dataplates that provided the serial number assigned, and perhaps an identification of the company that did the conversion - either Baldwin or International Harvester. Unfortunately, this unit no longer has a dataplate.


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Here we have a "before" view of the Overloon T14E1 photographed at the Port of Baltimore in 2004. Note the weld scars (1) showing where the transverse mounted tool box was fitted across the rear deck. The two longitudinally mounted tool boxes sat above the engine deck doors and were mounted on the small fixtures identified here. The innermost mountings (seen here at 2 and missing at 3) held a locking pin which could be removed, permitting the outermost mountings (4) to act as hinges, allowing these bins to be folded outwards to give access to the engine deck doors. However, access to the engine bay was still inhibited by the splash shields under the engine deck doors of Ford engined vehicles. This could explain why photographs often show the two longitudinally mounted tool boxes removed from their official locations and repositioned elsewhere. It should be noted that these mountings are seen on other M32 series TRVs, so they are not exclusive to the T14E1. Also of note are the two openings cut through the grating of the engine deck doors. These apparently provided access to what are, judging by their locations, the oil level gauge or “dipstick” (5) and the oil filler cap (6) on the Ford GAA engine. However, these access points have not been seen on other M32B3 based TRVs and with only one other T14E1 believed to have survived we have not been able to ascertain if they are peculiar to T14E1s or just this specific vehicle.


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The authors are not aware of a surviving Technical Manual for the T14E1, but on retrievers equipped with the boom raising sheave, the two fittings seen here on the glacis and on the boom (circled) appear to have been installed to serve a similar purpose to the “lifting cable safety connection” covered in the M32 series Tech Manual - “to prevent boom from falling back on the vehicle if the lifting cable should break, or the load is released suddenly.” The inset shows the T14 pilot with what we believe is a “safety cable” connected to the fittings.


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"Upon successful test of the pilot vehicle [T14] at Ordnance proving grounds, standardization action [was] taken" in mid 1945. M32 series retrievers installed with HVSS were ordered to have the designation "A1" added to their original nomenclature. An M32 with HVSS became M32A1, an M32B1 became M32A1B1, and an M32B3 became M32A1B3. Despite some official production figures to the contrary, our theory is that, except for the T14 pilot and the T14E1s, no other M32 series recovery vehicles were built with HVSS before the retriever conversion program was terminated in the third quarter of 1945. Most Ordnance contracts for major items included provision for replacement of damaged or worn out parts. The T14E1 contract specified "spare parts, equipment and tools for twelve (12) months' maintenance of vehicle; and spare parts, equipment and tools for major overhaul and distribution." As these spares were depleted, AFVs could still be repaired through cannibalization of other vehicles. A small number of period photos suggest that a few T14E1s had their original booms replaced with M32 series booms with lifting arms that connected to lifting drums on the right sprocket. The photo above was taken in Korea in the mid 1950s, and shows members of the 707th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion with what appears to be a T14E1 retrofitted with a standard M32 series boom (1). The main T14E1 clue is the fitting for the boom raising sheave (arrow). We believe that the cable clamps (circled) installed on the glacis were also exclusive to the T14E1s.


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The fittings (circled) seen on the recovery vehicle on display in a Military base in Cimahi, Indonesia suggest that it is also a case of a unit that started out as a T14E1, but had its original boom replaced with an M32 series boom, which required that the lifting drum be retrofitted to the right sprocket. Note as well, how the external boom bracket on the left is welded on in a vertical orientation. Assuming that this conversion job had been done "in the field," we were hoping that this unit might still have a "T14E1" dataplate inside, but our correspondent reported that there is no dataplate. The changes made to this retriever are very extensive, which leads us to think that it is more likely that it was remanufactured in the US, and given an "M32A1B3" dataplate before shipment as MDAP. Photo courtesy of Budi Nurtjahjo Djarot.





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In late 1948, Bowen-McLaughlin-York was awarded a contract to rebuild 1300 M4A3(76)s. A specification of the order included the instructions, "Introduce an engineering conversion of the suspension system from Vertical Volute Spring Suspension to Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension by welding basic components to the chasis." In this way the Army was able to "produce" additional supplies of M4A3(76)HVSS Shermans, the model considered to be the best acceptable substitute to make up for the shortage of available M26s. Period photographs and a few surviving examples suggest that this process was applied to some M32 series Tank Recovery Vehicles. The photo above shows an M32A1B1 towing an M43 8 inch Howitzer Motor Carriage "along the fighting front in Korea" in May, 1952. In the absence of much documentation, we will try to piece together what little we know about these particular conversions. Note that this unit is equipped with the M32 series lifting arm (1). It is obvious from period photos and surviving examples that the T14E1's replacement of the original lifting arm and drum with the boom raising sheave was not absolutely necessary in order to accommodate the 23 inch HVSS suspension. Note the pair of new items stowed just above the "2."


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The only hint we have come across concerning the production of M32 series retrievers retrofitted with HVSS comes from a dataplate found inside an M32A1B3 we once examined at the Ranges of Recovery Division at Aberdeen Proving Ground. In the photo above, it can be seen that the Serial Number of this unit is 273, indicating a Pressed Steel Car conversion originally accepted in June, 1944. The unit was "Rebuilt By R.I.A." [Rock Island Arsenal] in Illinois, and the year "1949" is stamped in the space at the bottom of the plate. Note that Rock Island labeled the retriever "M32B3 HVSS" rather than the official designation of "M32A1B3." Photo courtesy of Kurt Laughlin.


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The photo above is thought to have been taken at APG in the 1970s, and shows a rather battered M32A1B3. At the time, the Registration Number was still painted on the side and rear, and is just visible as "USA 40154847." That is a mathematical match to Serial Number 273. Thus, we can deduce that when this unit was rebuilt at Rock Island Arsenal, its original PSC Serial and Registration Numbers were retained. This retriever appears to have been "used hard and put away wet" at APG. It can be seen that some of the HVSS suspension components are damaged or missing, and that the lifting arm has been broken off and what can be seen is the left over remnants bent out of shape (arrow). The engine access door (1) demonstrates that it was not possible to open these hatches with the boom in the travelling position. This was corrected in the later M74 retrievers by splitting each hatch into two halves. It is thought that the items circled were "stabilizer plates," and that they were used in place of the "rod type stabilizers" that equipped the T14E1s. If any readers can explain how these would have been used "to lock out the springs on the front and rear bogies during lifting operations," we would be pleased to have a report. Photo courtesy of David Haugh.


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Above shows USA 40155147 another M32A1B3 that was once on display at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The inset from a 1952 snapshot shows a stencil that identifies the “new” objects as “Stabilizer Plates.” We would note that on both USA 40154847 and USA 40155147, two of these plates are seen mounted on the right side of the vehicle, and there is no evidence that an additional pair were mounted on the left.


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The above is a photo of part of the suspension of Serial Number 273. In this view it is possible to see that the bogie, idler wheel and return roller brackets were welded on to the hull. These components were bolted on to Shermans  built with HVSS factory installed. Note how the bolts (arrows) appear to have been melted during the retrofit process. It is assumed that the "welding [of the] basic components to the chassis" during retrofit was done for strength, but it would have been much harder to replace the bogie assemblies and such in the event of damage. The inner road wheel is missing on SN 273 which provides us with a good view of one of the clearance notches (1). Each inner road wheel required a clearance notch on the lower edge of the hull side as shown. As built, these were neatly machined. It is thought that the notches were torch cut on HVSS retrofits, as their appearance is somewhat rougher than the machined notches.


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The available photographic evidence suggests that the Marine Corps was able standardize on and equip all of its armored units with T14E1s during the Korean War. The US Army, on the other hand, was not able to standardize on a single type, such as the M32B3, but instead had to resort to using any and all available models, including retrievers with the original VVSS, as well as those with the HVSS upgrade. The Signal Corps gave good coverage to recovery operations during the Korean War, and while the majority of the TRVs seen in photos are M32B1s, M32B3s are also well represented. Above is the only SC photo we know of at present that shows a straight M32. Note the slight gap (arrow) between the internal boom pivot bracket and the antenna casting, typical of M32s, as opposed to M32B3s. Somewhat ironically, this retriever is seen being recovered by an M4A3(76)HVSS after having fallen into a ditch. The photo is dated August 9, 1950, which was just as the first Shermans began to arrive and enter combat in Korea.


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The photo above is dated July 19, 1950, and shows an M24 of Company A, 79th Heavy Tank Battalion under tow by the unit's M32B1 retriever. In the late 1940s, the 4 US Infantry Divisions serving Occupation Duty in Japan, had had their attached Tank Battalions reduced to single companies consisting of approximately 24 M24 Light Tanks. The M24s were rushed to Korea where they suffered heavy losses attempting to slow the progress of the initial North Korean onslaught. The M32B1 shown here was most likely one of the first Sherman based vehicles to be deployed to Korea. Judging by the "low" position of the crow bars (1), we would guess that this unit was a Baldwin conversion. Note that the anvil (2) and the vise (3) are installed in the frame type holders on the front fenders. Of particular interest is the oxyacetylene tank (4) emplaced in a hole cut in the hull in the area of the right side grouser storage compartment.


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The US Army reported that 71 retrievers had been issued by January 21, 1951, and the M32B1 shown above served with the 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion, which was organic to the 2nd Infantry Division at the time this vehicle was photographed in January, 1952. It appears to be a Pressed Steel Car Spring 1944 conversion based on a used M4A1. Note the chute type turret port and the "plate with 3 clamps" tool fittings mounted on the fenders. This unit can be seen to have the unusual "closed off" hinge brackets (arrows) as noted on "Step N Fetchit" in an earlier caption. The absence of the bridle assembly fittings provides evidence that not all post war retrievers were updated with the automatic tow hook modification. By January, 1951, it was reported that 516 M4A3 Shermans had been issued, along with 252 M26 Pershing and 173 M46 Patton Tanks. The vast majority of the Shermans used in Korea would have been M4A3(76)s with HVSS, as mandated by the US Army. However, period photographs of Korean War M32 series suggest that little or no effort was made to replace the original arrangement of VVSS spare road wheels and tracks with what would have been more useful HVSS spares.


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The above shows an M32B1 which has become bogged while attempting to recover an Army M46 Patton tank on May 1, 1951. The M32 series TRVs had been designed to recover the 30 ton Sherman Medium Tank. During the Korean War, it was found that the M32s were just not powerful enough to handle the M26 and M46, both of which weighed over 40 tons. Reports from the field stated that, while they were capable of towing the newer tanks on level ground, they could not safely perform this task either up or down the inclines typical of the mountainous terrain of Korea. A number of armored units noted that the best vehicle for towing or recovering an M46 Patton Tank was another M46. Consequently, it was requested that a new Tank Recovery Vehicle be developed based on the Patton.


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The cast hulled M32B1s converted with HVSS to M32A1B1 standard did not receive the boom raising sheave developed for the T14E1 and instead had a short insert attached to the top of the boom foot support bracket just below the boom pivot. We have no documentation regarding this modification but believe that it was required to raise the mounting height of the boom approximately 5½ inches (14 cm) to permit the lifting cable to attach to the lifting drum on the drive sprocket without fouling the wider 23 inch track of the HVSS. It should be noted that the welded hull M32B3s converted to M32A1B3 standard did not require this modification as their boom pivots were presumably already high enough to allow the lifting cable to clear the wider HVSS tracks.


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While the M32 series TRVs struggled with the M26s and M46s in Korea, the Ordnance Department was developing even heavier tanks to counter the perceived threat of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. The M47 Patton wasn’t issued to the forces in Korea, but was the USAREUR’s (United States Army Europe) first line of defense in West Germany when first deployed in 1952, closely followed by the M48 Patton in 1953. With the development of the M103 Heavy Tank with a weight of close to twice that of the WWII Sherman tanks, the writing was on the wall for the M32 series. By 1951, the Army had a replacement recovery vehicle on the drawing boards, the T51, which was based on the M103 Heavy Tank.  However, the width of the original design was over 12 feet, which was considered unacceptable due to road and rail transport limitations. In the meantime, a new Sherman design was accepted. The M74 was based on the M4A3 chassis with HVSS, and production commenced in 1953. Even so, the M32 series soldiered on and there are photos showing them in US Army service as late as 1956. The above shows an M47 Patton being towed by an M32A1B1 of the 28th Infantry Division’s 110th Regiment through a German village in late 1953/early 1954. Both vehicles are fitted with rubber tracks (1) to limit any damage to the German road network. This TRV is one of the few M32B1s we have seen based on a direct vision hull, the drivers' visors hidden here behind the appliqué plates (2). The extensions to the boom mounts (3) can be seen here, as can the loop for the bridle assembly (4), although no bridle is fitted. Colorful “candy stripes” (5) are seen painted on the front fenders. Also of note is that the front towing pintle is absent (6), suggesting that the transmission housing is most likely a replacement.


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In May 2022, we were pleased to be contacted by Norman Nelson (Jr.), who was kind enough to share a photo of his father, Cpl. Norman Nelson (Sr.), a track & wheel mechanic who was a crewmember on this very same TRV during his service with the 110th Infantry Regiment in Neu Ulm, Germany, 1953-54. Again, we point out the colorful “candy” warning stripes on the vehicle’s boom as well as the PCF style light guards and “blocky” rear lifting rings which identify the tank’s manufacturer. It should be noted that in both photos most of the vehicle’s spare wheels holders are empty, although one spare Patton idler wheel and two spare Patton sprockets are seen stowed on the left-hand side of the hull in Norman’s photo above.


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Here we can see that an adaptor was produced to adjust the 3 point lifting arm mechanism, permitting the cable attaching to the cable lifting drum to be moved further outboard, presumably to assist in clearing the wider HVSS suspension. This adaptor (1) has been noted on both M32A1B1s & M32A1B3s in postwar service, and is indeed seen on Norman Nelson's M32A1B1 in addition to the extension to the height of the boom mount (2).


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The Signal Corps photo above was taken in Germany during Exercise “Sledgehammer” in September, 1953. It recorded an incident involving an M32B3 and a pair of M47 Pattons of the 66th Tank Battalion, 2d Armored Division. Again, we see how the M32 series frequently "had trouble" recovering the 40+ ton medium tanks of the post war US Army. Often additional retrievers, wheeled wreckers or other gun tanks (as shown here), were required to assist with recovery operations. “Colt” can be seen to have been an original "small hatch" (circled) M32B3 conversion. Note the additional extension assemblies (1) for the Automatic Tow Hook Modification, although as was often the case, the vehicle is not equipped with the actual hook. The Stiff Arm Brackets (2) have been moved to the new location as specified in the MWO for the installation of the extension assemblies. The road wheel (3) and idler (4) stowed in the brackets on the hull rear are Sherman parts, certainly not spares that could be used on these M47s! Most likely the Armored First Aid Box (5) was retrofitted during an upgrade or rebuild. The entire M31 TRV series along with the few diesel M32B2s converted for the USMC, were declared obsolete in August, 1945. Radial Engine M32 and M32B1 retrievers were reclassified as obsolete in January, 1956. Obsoletion of the Ford engined M32B3 series came in mid 1958. However, even after that, M32 series retrievers continued in use for a number of years with US National Guard units and MDAP allies.


Part 4 : M74 Series


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In 1944, Pressed Steel Car was commissioned to build a prototype tank retriever based on the M26 chassis, and designated "T12." The pilot was equipped with a telescoping boom in a fully rotating turret, similar in design to the original T2 and T7 Tank Recovery Vehicles. Two winches were mounted in the turret bustle, one for the boom and the other for drag line operations. Like the M31 and M32 series retrievers, the T12 would have had a crew of 6 men. It was estimated that, fully loaded, it would have weighed 90,000 pounds. That strikes us as a "lowball" estimate, considering that the M26 is listed as having had a combat weight of over 92,000 pounds. From the photos, it would appear that the T12 would have been built with extended end connectors factory installed like the M4A3E2 [Jumbo] Sherman. In the event, the T12 project was terminated with the end of WW II, and as we have shown, the US military continued to rely on Sherman based retrievers in the post war era.


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From the beginning of the Korean War it had been recognized that the Sherman based M32 series, including the T14E1s, "are considered too light for retrieving tanks in excess of 40 tons [the M26 & M46].” Several Korean War unit records state that the best AFV for towing an M46 was another M46. Despite that, Sherman based retrievers continued in service, until they were replaced NOT by a Patton (M46, M47, M48) based retriever conversion, but by another model based on the M4A3 - the M74. Designed by Bowen-McLaughlin-York, the M74 was a vast improvement over the earlier M32 series of retrievers. It featured a powerful 90,000 pound capacity winch, a hydraulically operated boom, and a front spade (1) which could be dug in (2) to anchor and stabilize the vehicle during winching operations as shown above. Of course, the spade could also function as a bulldozer. In order to augment the towing power, the final drive ratio was increased from the standard Sherman 2.84:1 to 3.36:1. “The final drive ratios are from the old, heavier assault tanks...[M4A3E2 Jumbo] which are slower but more powerful, and let you tow a full track vehicle weighing up to 100,000 pounds.” Still, as the photo suggests, in some cases, the enormous weight of an M48 required two units to complete a recovery.


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BMY’s design was a relatively low cost evolution of the M32 series, utilizing the same basic layout but incorporating a number of engineering improvements. The single 60,000 pound all-purpose winch of the M32 was replaced by three special purpose winches: a 25,000 pound boom winch and a 90,000 pound tow winch, both mounted in the hull; and a 10,000 pound auxiliary winch mounted on the front of the turret. There was also a 2,000 pound utility hand winch at the rear. Similarly, the simple boom design of the M32 series was improved by incorporating hydraulic rams for raising and lowering, which permitted it to be used as a live boom. Unlike the M32 series, the M74 used only one type of "donor" Sherman - the M4A3 with HVSS.


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"Sherman" author Richard Hunnicutt stated that the M74 conversions were done at Bowen-McLaughlin-York from February 1954 through October 1955, but he did not provide any production figures. BMY has undergone a number of mergers, and the core business is now under BAE Systems in York, Pa. Their website has it that the 1953 contract was for 1100 M74s. Aside from that, at present we have no documentation regarding production numbers and dates. However, there are quite a few surviving M74s, and we would simply observe through "counting heads" that the highest Serial Number we have recorded to date is 1126 which was accepted in October, 1954 according to its dataplate. This would tend to suggest that at least 1126 were produced up to October, 1954. The photo above is dated October, 1953, and shows what we believe was the first production M74 demonstrating the lifting capability of its hydraulic boom. We would note that BMY M74s appear to have retained their Sherman Registration Numbers, and all of those recorded so far (including USA 30141181 above) have been from M4A3(105)HVSS's.


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Above shows the T74 pilot, photographed at the Armored Force Board at Ft. Knox in the Summer of 1952. As mentioned earlier, we have observed from period photos that BMY M74s appear to have retained their original Sherman Registration Numbers, and all of those recorded so far, with the exception of the pilot model, which can be seen here as USA 30125569, have been from M4A3(105)HVSS's. Additionally, on surviving M74s where we have been able to read the Sherman Serial Number from the rear tow lugs, all of them have been of former M4A3(105)HVSS's. Consequently, the pilot may be somewhat unique in that its Registration Number provides the information that it was converted from a March, 1945 Fisher built M4A3(75)W HVSS, in fact one of the last of that type made. Thus, it would seem that "105" was not any sort of prerequisite for the conversions. "Assault Gun" 105mm Shermans were overbuilt during WW II, that is the supply far exceeded the final demand. Therefore, large numbers of M4A3(105)s with HVSS were still available in the US inventory when the M74 program commenced, and so those were used as donors. Except for an all purpose open basket type bin on the rear deck, the M74 didn’t include tool boxes on the engine deck as per the M32 series TRVs. Instead, the designers supplied an extensive range of tool and stowage boxes attached to the sides and rear of the vehicle. Note that the pilot can be seen with four stowage boxes on the side.


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Surviving vehicles and period photographs show most M74s with three stowage boxes on each side of the hull. Indeed, these are described in the Technical Manual as "Front," "Center" and "Rear Side Stowage Boxes." However, walk around photos of the T74 pilot show it with four outward opening stowage boxes on each side of the hull. We suspect the number was reduced to three by the time the design was finalized and approved for production. A small number of period photographs and a few surviving M74s show examples with five or six side stowage boxes. The one seen here with 6 very "official" looking stowage boxes was reported to have been photographed at the Detroit Tank Arsenal in 1961. Perhaps there was some sort of upgrade program at the time? We recorded the USA Number as 30141152 from the color print at the Patton Museum Library at Ft. Knox. This unit would have been built as an M4A3(105)HVSS in June, 1945, the last month of Sherman production at Chrysler.



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While stabilizer plates and adjustable rod type stabilizers were used on HVSS equipped M32s and T14E1s, M74s didn’t use any form of suspension locking-out mechanism, so no small adaptor fittings were needed on their front or rear bogies. The dozer blade fitted to the transmission housing, as seen here in the "traveling" position on the pilot model, was referred to as a "spade." It was relatively simple, and NOT hydraulically powered. It was released by a pull cable and pin mechanism at the driver’s position. The spade could then be lowered by gravity, or lowered and raised by the auxiliary winch located at the front of the turret. The primary purpose of the spade was to act as an anchor during recovery operations, taking the strain off the front suspension bogies, but it could also be used for light dozing work. The above photo shows the T74 pilot. The standard Sherman style headlights and guards seen here were changed on production M74s.


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The 81mm mortar, a standard feature of the M32 series, was dropped from the M74 design, presumably because the auxiliary winch mounted on the front of the turret would not permit its installation. The M74 Technical Manual catalogues the armament carried as a .30 cal bow machine gun, a .50 cal machine gun affixed to a mount on the commander’s cupola, and a 3.5” rocket launcher, M2 [“Bazooka”]. M74 dataplates have it that the crew was (only) 4 men. The fully loaded (combat) weight is given as 93,750 pounds, about 32,000 pounds more than the original M32 series. The 500 HP Ford V8 was and still is considered an engineering marvel, but we can't help but think that the M74's weight would have tested it to the max.


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The detachable A-frame of the M32 and T14E1 was replaced by a fixed superstructure (1) that extended out from the rear of the M74 hull. To either side were two large stowage boxes (2) and small steps (3) were incorporated into the rear fenders. The rear towing pintle (4) was mounted at a similar height to that seen on the T14E1, and the automatic tow hook was discontinued, being replaced with a tow-bar (5) which was stowed on the rear of the superstructure and was typically preconnected to the pintle. The tow-bar could be quickly lowered with the hand crank (6) of the 2,000 lb utility winch (7) and then the free ends would be attached to the towing lugs of the vehicle awaiting recovery.


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M74s were converted from late model M4A3s with HVSS, many of which would have been built with the armored exhaust deflectors reported to have been introduced in production at Chrysler in January, 1945. The armored deflectors are rarely seen in WW II photos, simply because Shermans produced in 1945 were "too late" to be needed overseas. Ultimately, the surplus tanks remained in the US, and those that weren't issued to US training forces, were put in storage in the event of emergency. We would observe that in the Summer of 1948, there were nearly 2000 M4A3(105)HVSS in the US inventory. The photo above shows USA 30141181 which would have been built as an M4A3(105)HVSS by Chrysler in June, 1945, their last month of Sherman production. Without doubt this tank would have had the armored exhaust deflector factory installed. However, as an M74 conversion, 30141181 can be seen to have been retrofitted with the earlier style of sheet metal exhaust deflector (1). No doubt the sheet metal deflector was substituted due to the long overhang of the rear stowage boxes on the M74. The armored deflector was designed to swing outwards and upwards to give access to the door, and the long overhang would have prevented this operation. The earlier sheet metal deflector worked with the M74 design since it swung inwards and up under the rear deck. The photo in the inset is from the M74 Tech Manual, and shows the deflector in the "up under" position.


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Ford engined Shermans and variants had "splash shields" (1) fitted under the engine deck doors as shown at the top left. However, as mentioned previously, and seen at the top right, the boom of the M32 series TRV prevented the engine deck doors from being opened or closed when the boom was in the stowed position. The solution utilized by the M74 designers was to cut each engine deck door in half and allow it to fold onto itself by using hinges (2) as seen in the photo at the bottom left. The innermost portions were folded outwards and held secure by spring mounted hooks (3).  Also of note are the torsion bars/counterbalanced hinges (4) for the engine deck doors. The doors were extremely heavy, and the torsion bar hinges made it possible for one person to lift them with very little effort. These were standard fittings on the M74, and were retrofitted to many M4A3s during rebuild programs of the early 1950s. At the bottom right we can see the doors being held open by another spring mounted hook (5). The splash shield was also cut in half and we can only assume that the tubular supports (6) were added to ensure that the shields retained their structural integrity.


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While the M32’s turret was bolted to the vehicle’s hull, the turret of the M74 was welded to the hull (1) as seen in the above photo. In fact much of the sponson roof was removed on both sides of the hull to accommodate the new turret superstructure. The M74 came equipped with an M19 periscope that the driver could use in place of the standard M13 periscope. This was part of an "infrared driving system" for night operations, consisting “of a light source, a periscope assembly, and a high voltage power pack." We have noted on M74s that the driver’s periscope guard (2) is noticeably different from the rest, presumably purpose made to accommodate the M19. The small fittings (3) on either side of the periscope are only seen the driver’s hatches of M74s, and it may be that their purpose was to hold some sort of weather cover for the periscope. Two fixed auxiliary periscopes were installed between the drivers' hatches on 2nd Generation Shermans, but on the M74 these were removed and the openings blanked off (4).


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Here we see how a pair of mounts were fashioned to hold a cluster of lights, along with a horn on the right side. Each cluster was protected by a single brush guard. As mentioned above, the M74 utilized an active infrared driving system with a pair of IR illuminators described in the TM as “special purpose lights”. These consisted of one headlight on each side “with a deep-red filter lens mounted in the front cover of each light. These filter lenses absorb visible light and allow tthe [sic] passage of infrared rays...These projected infrared rays illuminate field objects and are, in turn, gathered by the periscope and converted therein to visible light for observation and night driving.” The fittings for the boom assembly "forced" the front hull lifting rings to be relocated down and in a bit from their original positions on the glacis.


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Unlike the M32, the turret of the M74 was fully weather proofed, being enclosed with a commander’s cupola hatch (1), a smaller oval crew access hatch (2) and twin doors (3) in the foremost section of the roof for the boom cable, which replaced the chute and door arrangements seen on the front of the M32 & T14E1 turrets. Note that the commander’s cupola appears to be a modified version of the standard cupola seen on late model Shermans (inset), with an adaptor ring insert made for a .50 cal machine gun pintle mount. We suspect that BMY recycled the cupola, the oval hatch and the ventilator cover (4) from the donor tank during the conversion process. A large panel (5) described in the TM as a “cupola mounting plate” was bolted to the turret roof. Pierre-Olivier has measured this panel as 64 inches or 1.625 meters wide (side to side) and 52 inches or 1.320 meters long (front to back). This could, of course, be removed to allow access to the internal winches and other components in the event maintenance or replacement was required.


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As mentioned previously, the evidence to date suggests that BMY did over 1100 M74 conversions. Apparently, the Army found merit in the design and tried to procure a few more. Richard Hunnicutt wrote that "Rock Island Arsenal also scheduled 60 M32B3s for conversion to M74 as late as 1958." David Doyle's "Sherman Tank, Vol. 6: M32 and M74 Sherman Based Recovery Vehicles" includes two photos showing what are described in their information panels as "M74B1." Presumably the B1 suffix was provided to designate M32B3 to M74 conversions. In any case, these are the only photos of M74B1s that we have ever seen. David has kindly permitted us to use the photo above. "Serial Number 384" and "USA 40154958" can be seen stenciled on the side. Those are the original M32B3 Serial and Registration Numbers, indicating that the unit had been converted by Pressed Steel Car in June, 1944. In the inset on the left, note the elongated, not direct vision, type of protruding drivers' hoods and 57 degree glacis angle typical of a first-generation Sherman. We would assume that the padded hull lifting ring seen here was original to the hull. If so, the donor M4A3 would have been built by Ford between October, 1942 and January, 1943. Note that the lifting ring was repositioned to the very edge of the glacis plate, and perhaps down a little. The information panel has it that the photo was taken at Rock Island Arsenal on November 1, 1956, and identifies the unit as "Tank Recovery Vehicle M74B1." "Inspected by R.I.A. 10/55" is stenciled on the side, and from that we would assume that this M74B1 conversion was done on or before October, 1955. This unit can be seen with 3 side stowage lockers as shown in the Technical Manual, and as seen in most period photos and on most surviving examples.


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At present, the earliest M74 Serial Number we have observed is 43. The earliest "dated" example is SN 80, accepted in October, 1953. We hope it will be possible to expand what is known by recording more data from surviving M74s, and would welcome information and photos from our readers. The M74 dataplate provides not only the Serial Number, but the date of conversion. If that is missing or inaccessible, the M74’s Serial Number has been observed to be stamped on the front left side of the hull (left), while the donor Sherman’s Serial Number can be found stamped onto the rear tow lugs (right). On 14 March, 1957, the M4A3(76)HVSS became the last Sherman gun tank to be declared obsolete. Thus, the M74 might be considered historically significant in that it was the last Sherman based vehicle in use by the US Army. The M74 served into the 1970s – the Technical Manual was “Rescinded for active US Army use only – 29 Dec. 1973,” although it remained "current for Army Reserve, National Guard and MAP Countries."


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