Every wargamer interested in late war British and Empire armour knows what a Sherman Firefly is, as well as it’s tank destroyer cousins the Wolverine and Achilles. The British found the original American names for these Lend-Lease vehicles a bit dry and gave them the more inspiring names we’re all familiar with.

Or did they? Some of the real names used in the war aren’t what you might expect. Take the little quiz below to see if you can name the tank!

British WWII AFV names

So what is a “Firefly”?

Officially, nothing. It’s a nickname that seems to have got tagged onto several vehicles that had the 17pdr gun. So you could say “firefly” was a nickname associated with the gun itself. During the war a “Firefly” usually meant an M10C tank destroyer, since the war it seems to have hopped over to the Sherman almost exclusively.  Very occasionally a WWII source will refer to a 17pdr Sherman as a Firefly, but that’s pretty rare. They were also called “Mayflies”. So using the name Firefly as the definitive name for a 17pdr-armed Sherman is just cobblers.

The tank most wargames call a “Sherman Firefly” was officially the “Sherman VC” (and a few of the older “Sherman IC”).

So if an M10C is a “Firefly” what is an “Achilles”?

Officially all M10 tank destroyers were called the Achilles, including those with the 3″ naval gun (officially: “3in SP Achilles”) and the later 17pdr (“17pdr SP Achilles”). But this name was almost never used at the time, certainly not by the troops at the front. It’s a name dreamed up by technocrats at the UK’s Department of Tank Design which was never used outside of internal government communications.

M10s were just called M10s, and M10Cs were often called Fireflies. If you hear an actual WWII soldier referring to a “Firefly”, he’s almost certainly talking about an M10C, not a Sherman. The name Achilles wouldn’t have meant anything to them.

You can hear an old soldier from Normandy quite readily refer to 17pdr M10s as “Fireflies” at 1:09:30 in this video:

Er, what about the “Wolverine” then?

It’s the M10 with the 3″ gun, right? Nope.

Nobody is quite sure where the name “Wolverine” comes from. Some suggest it’s a post-war Canadian designation, which seems plausible. No official documentation from the 1940s ever uses the name, and if you said it to the crew of a 3″ M10 you’d have got blank stares. To be fair, you’d have got the same for “Achilles” even though technically that was an official name for a 3″ M10, at least for some government departments. The troops called them M10s, or just TDs. The M10C crewman in the above video consistently refers to his vehicle as simply an “M10”, while the infantrymen use the nickname Firefly.

What about the same vehicles in US service?

Uh-oh, can of worms alert! The British introduced names for a lot of Lend-Lease stuff that didn’t have a name back in its homeland. For example, the Greyhound recce vehicle wasn’t ever called that by the Americans, and even the name Sherman was a purely British invention for that tank. The Americans just called it a “Medium tank, M4″(a designation never used by the British!). Using the British names for American vehicles in British service is absolutely fine IMO.

Does it matter?

Well, no. The Thought Police aren’t going to kick in your door if you use the “wrong” name for your little plastic and resin toys. When it comes to names the main thing is that both you and the person you’re talking to understand each other. Amongst wargamers the most common understanding is:

  • If you say “Firefly”, you mean a Sherman IC or VC with a 17pdr
  • If you say “Achilles” you mean an M10C with a 17pdr
  • If you say “Wolverine” you mean an M10 with a 3″ gun

Of course that’s actually wrong, and a lot of wargamers know it. I may be pushing shit uphill with a stick here, but nobody will start using the correct names until they hear other people doing it, so I personally try to stick to the right ones. I just make sure people know which one I mean (it’s actually marginally easier to write “17pdr Sherman” than “Sherman Firefly” anyway…)

I expect everyone will ignore my nitpicking and continue doing it the way they have been. I’m not going to berate people for using the misnomers, but I will try to get it right myself.

I understand why miniature manufacturers persist in using the wrong names. If they don’t people might never find their wares online. If I was selling a Sherman VC online I’d be sure people found it when they searched for “Firefly”. Fair enough, but it does perpetuate the misconception.

So why bother? Well, there’s no real benefit to using the wrong names, but knowing what they were actually called during the war can actually help you. Recently I was having a conversation with someone online that involved researching some war diaries to see if a particular unit was ever equipped with 17pdr M10Cs. When searching for “Achilles” returned no hits, I instead suggested searching for M10C, which found the info we were after. The names we wargamers use aren’t what people actually called these things during the war, which can get in the way of understanding period sources.

FWIW, Zaloga agrees:

Over the years, a number of dubious names have been associated with the M10 and M36 tank destroyers. The M10 is sometimes referred to as the Wolverine, an unofficial nickname sometimes used in wartime Chrysler advertising. It was never used by the US Army. The British M10C 17-pdr was referred to in at least one post-war report as Achilles, but this name was never widely used by British forces. The M36 is sometimes referred to as the Jackson, but this appears to be an entirely specious, post-war invention. None of these names are used in this account in order to avoid perpetuating these misnomers.

M10 and M36 Tank Destroyers 1942-53 by Steven J. Zaloga

Thoughts?