You return from the morning's briefing session with a map in one hand and a cup of tepid coffee in the other. Grimacing after your last swallow, you dump the remaining sludge on the ground and focus on studying the terrain between here and the town of Vimoutiers. With all of the forests and hills between here and your objective, you know that the mission will be a tough one.
You also know that once you tell the members of your crew about the mission, they'll whine and groan about it. Since their arrival in Normandy, they always did.
Dennis Pepperell, or "Piper", your gunner, would complain the most. He'd shake his head, put his hands on his hips and say something like, "What are they trying to do? Get us killed?" and go on about the unfairness of it all. His rant had become a kind of ritual; a way of jinxing the danger that lay ahead. Still, he was an experienced gunner with a keen eye for sighting and destroying targets.
Roger Cadieux, your loader and radio operator, would simply let out a long whistle and mutter to himself in French. Seconds later, he would pore over your map, memorizing every hill, every town, every blade of grass along the way. He was quietly efficient and probably the smartest member of your crew.
George Tremalak, your driver, would stare at you impassively, as if he had been asked to go to a local store to pick up some chewing gum. Other than his annoying habit of humming Glenn Miller tunes in the heat of battle, he was an easy-going chap, well liked by everyone who knew him.
Finally, Guillaume Fredette, or "Gus" to the others, was your tank's co-driver and machine-gun operator. Handy with a wrench, his main complaint, as always, was the wear and tear brought about by each battle on "his" tank, to which he was a doting mother.
For all their faults and quirks though, you knew that each man would carry out his duty with unflinching resolve. Second only to their fear of dying was the fear of letting other members of the crew down. Like the well-oiled machine that was your tank, your crew worked together to make it through each mission.
Approaching your assembly area, you notice the members of your crew piling sandbags on the glacis and side panels of your tank's hull; extra padding for the tank's less-than-adequate armour. A bizarre practice, but one that was shared by many Sherman tank crews.
The Sherman M4A3 was the standard workhorse of the Allies, as it was both reliable and easy to operate. It weighed just over 35 tons and could reach a top road speed of about 38km/h, though considerably less over rough terrain. Its frontal armour consisted of a sloped plate some 76mm thick. It also mounted a 76mm gun that gave it a fighting chance against a German Panther tank. But it had virtually no chance against the dreaded Tiger tank, unless it happened to fire from a dangerously close range and got off the first shot.
Fortunately, German tanks never seemed to appear in great numbers and the Allies simply made up in quantity for what they lacked in quality. Churning out Sherman tanks by the thousands, they could easily replace any losses incurred in battle. This, of course, was small consolation to Allied tank crews fighting in Europe, and it was perhaps not surprising that the members of your crew were so intent on covering every square inch of your tank's hull with sandbags. It was widely believed that the extra protection just might be enough to deflect or explode a shell before penetrating the tank's armour and setting it ablaze. Wise precaution or silly superstition?
You yourself had seen enough burned-out tanks to know that a German shell could blow up its target, regardless of sandbags. Still, the practice was a popular one with Allied tank crews and helped alleviate feelings of technical inferiority against superior German tanks.
Should you allow your men to continue piling the sandbags in view of affording your tank "better" protection? Or should you instruct your men to remove the sandbags and focus instead on their mission?