The sheer availability of the classic American M4 Sherman Medium Tank of World War 2 (1939-1945) fame made it an excellent candidate for conversion to other battlefield forms. This approach, therefore, produced a myriad of variants all based in the original design - expanding the legacy of the Sherman even beyond that of the Second World War. The M32 became a product of this very thinking, conceived of and developed as an Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV).
The M32 was used to succeed the line of M31 ARVs, these built atop the chassis of the in-service M3 Lee Medium Tanks. Once the M3 series was being supplanted by the M4 Sherman, it was only natural to convert the Sherman to take on the same ARV role as the M31.
On the battlefield, the ARV was (and remains) an important component to any advance as the system would be charged with the removal of roadway obstacles or assisting disabled heavy vehicles as well as providing a limited capability to handle in-the-field repair work. During the fighting of World War 2, where tank battles proved plenty, such vehicles were at a premium and eventually utilized by all sides of the conflict to remove battle-damaged/disabled tanks, halftracks, utility poles, battlefield rubble/debris, and even piles of dead carcasses to help clear up vital roadways, bridges, and key passages for the advancing allied force.
The M32 began production as soon as 1943 and was made up of the basic Sherman frame though with its turret assembly completely removed. In its place was added a fixed superstructure but, beyond this, the vehicle more-or-less retained the form-and-function of the classic Sherman. Armament, improved over that of the earlier M31, became self-defensive in nature: 1 x 0.50 caliber Browning M2 Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) with 1 x 0.30 caliber Browning M1918 Medium Machine Gun (MMG). An single 81mm infantry field mortar was added to allow the crew to provide a make-shift smoke screen to shield its actions if under fire - the mortar was simply installed over the hull bow superstructure section on its own bipod support frame. About 20 infantry hand grenades and 6 hand-thrown smoke grenades (as well as any personal weapons carried by the crew) completed the armament suite of the tracked vehicle.
Typically, 300 rounds of 0.50 caliber ammunition were carried along with 9,000 rounds of 0.30 caliber ammunition - giving the tank good battlefield staying power in the event of a firefight.
The M32 lacked the boom arm of the M31. In its place at the bow, a hinged A-frame was installed and another such component was added to the hull rear area. A Gar Wood winch device, supporting up to 60,000lb was also included. With this equipment, the M32 could pull or push vehicles as needed.
Internally, various engine fits ultimately powered the M32 family of vehicles because of the various Sherman models in play during the war - as such some models came equipped with the Continental R975-C1 or -C4 9-cylinder radial gasoline-fueled engine of 350/400 horsepower while others relied on the General Motors 6046 twin inline diesel (375 horsepower) or the Ford GAA V8 gas unit of 450 horsepower. The engine was mated to a manual transmission offering five forward and one reverse gear(s). The pairing allowed for road speeds nearing 25 miles-per-hour with an operational range up to 150 miles.
The vehicle sported an overall length of 19.3 feet with a beam of 8.9 feet and a height of 9.65 feet. Weight reached between 64,300lb and 67,600lb depending on variant and equipment carried. Armored protection ranged from 13mm to 51mm across the various facings. A crew of four (down from the Shermans traditional five) were used to man the various functions of the tank.
The variants associated with the M32 were led by the original M32 based on the original M4 Sherman production model, 163 were produced to this standard. The M32B1 followed the M4A1 (1,085 being produced) and the M32B2 was the M4A2 (26 constructed). The M32B3 was built from the M4A3 models (344 completed) and the M32B4 was the M4A4 - the latter not entering production. The M32A1 added the HVSS (Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension) suspension gear of upgraded Shermans and this was followed by the M32A1B1 which was the M32B1 with HVSS (175 conversions handled by Baldwin Locomotive). The M32A1B2s were M32B2s with HVSS and, similarly, the M32A1B3 was the M32B3 with HVSS.
The M34 offshoot became a dedicated Prime Mover vehicle pulled from the M32B1 stock with added features and equipment for the role. All armament was removed on this mark which entered service in 1944 (production lasting until 1945).
In service, the M32 family of vehicles was in operation throughout the campaigns of 1943 and onward encompassing Italy and including D-Day as part of the Invasion of Normandy, France. The British Army also depended on the type as they did other Sherman offshoots - in their Army service (made possible by Lend-Lease), the M32 became the "ARV Mark III".
Total production of M32 vehicles, which lasted into 1960, totaled 1,562 units and the most numerous mark became the M32B1 models by Pressed Steel Car Company. This was followed by the M32B1 by Federal Machine (385) and the M32B3 by Pressed Steel Car Company (298).
The M32 series vehicles lasted in operational service into the post-war decades and recorded additional combat exposure in the early-to-mid Cold War period as Israel operated a stock during its Six Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973). The type also saw exposure in the Suez Crisis of 1956.
For the Americans, the M32 continued to provide its critical battlefield services back during the Korean War (1950-1953) though it was quickly found to be outmoded when attempting to tow the new generation of heavier tanks used in the conflict - namely the M26 Pershing and M46 Patton types. After the war, the M32 line was succeeded in U.S. Army by the "M74 Tank Recovery Vehicle" (1954, the vehicle based in the based in the M4A3 HVSS Sherman mark) and the service formally gave up use of the M32 back in 1953.
Other global operators included Mexico (operated until the late-1990s) and Yugoslavia.