Retired from Battle: M4 Sherman Tank Tackles Farming

An English farming contractor turns to an M4 Sherman tank for plowing duty.

| July 2017

  • Robert Crawford’s Sherman tractor at a recent rally. When Robert bought the tank, he was told it had been used in the famous Battle of El Alamein in North Africa where General Bernard Montgomery defeated Erwin Rommel, the legendary “Desert Fox.” This fact was never proven, although Robert did find sand in the tank’s running gear.
    Photo courtesy Peter Longfoot
  • A late Sherman M4 tank with a high-velocity 76mm main gun guards the Abrams Gate to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
    Photo by Sam Moore
  • A line of Shervick tractors at Vickers-Armstrong’s Elswick Works.
    Farm Collector archives
  • Robert H. Crawford’s Sherman in 1948 pulling a Fowler deep-digger balance plow working to a depth of about 2 feet. The driver was Herbert Skinner, but his passenger is unidentified.
    Photo courtesy Peter Longfoot
  • Three Sherman tanks in action in Europe during World War II. The center tank has the 76mm gun, while the flankers have 75mm guns.
    Farm Collector archives

Isaiah tells us in the Bible that the Lord will judge and rebuke nations and people; “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks,” which, Isaiah prophesies, will bring about the end of war. Well, that glorious goal hasn’t yet been reached, but after World War II, some discarded weapons of war were converted to peaceful uses.

Surplus trucks and jeeps could be, and were, easily converted for civilian use, but tanks? To what possible use could these lethal machines be put? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is as crawler tractors for farm and industrial use, but the heavy superstructure that made up the armored hulls and the turrets of tanks made such use problematic. However, some 50,000 M4 Sherman tanks had been produced by the Allies during the war, and lots of them were left over, so ways to use these tracked and formerly lethal lumps of iron were developed in a number of countries.

Finding ways to use tanks

In this country, R.G. LeTourneau (read more about this ingenious man, Farm Collector, May 2016) bought a couple hundred surplus tanks from the scrap dealer. The tops were cut off level with the tops of the tracks and the scrap was melted down to make steel. The rear engines were removed and “we bolt one of our DC electric motors onto the (front-mounted) transmission and set down on the floor (of the engine compartment) a diesel engine and generator to make electricity,” LeTourneau said in a published account. “We connect up the wires and away we go.” LeTourneau used the tractors on his farming operations in Africa and South America as “farm tractors, bulldozers and mobile full-revolving cranes.”

There are also reports of Shermans modified with winches being used by electric companies in the west to string power lines across rough terrain as late as the 1970s, and a New Jersey contractor used a Sherman to demolish old houses in 1957.

Several Canadian companies made mobile rock drills for mining and log yarders for lumbering operations using M4 tank chassis and, although information is scarce, Russia seems to have converted surplus Shermans for tractor and bulldozer work.

Tank replaces steam cable

Robert Crawford, a large farming contractor in Lincolnshire, England, had been using steam cable tackle to operate a deep-digger plow to reclaim unproductive land. After World War II, British agriculture expanded and Crawford’s old and outdated steam tackle needed replacing. It was impossible to find a crawler tractor powerful and heavy enough to pull the big plow, so in 1947 he paid £350 for an ex-British Army M4 A2 Sherman tank, minus turret and armament.


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