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The Fury of Hell on Wheels: Tank Warfare, April 1945

The culmination of World War II in Europe brought with it the most mechanized force the planet had ever seen with the sheer firepower of the United States military. In spite of Allied superiority in weaponry, divisions often had to fight in close quarters with hand-to-hand combat. Limited maneuverability in small German towns resulted in heavy losses. The men fighting in Germany were either battle-hardened or green recruits, but all of them were sleepless and racing to end the war at breakneck speed. The new feature film, Fury, depicts the last month of the war in these startlingly real terms.

Allied tanks in the German city of Koblenz. (Still from Universal News)

Fury’s fictionalized account of events at the end of the war focus on a small platoon within the 2nd Armored Division. The 2nd Armored Division was created in July 1940 under the command of then Colonel George S. Patton. Parts of the division were among the first U.S. military armored divisions serving in North Africa when they landed at Casablanca on November 8, 1942. After nine months the division moved on to Sicily in July of 1943. On June 9, 1944, the 2nd Armored Division landed on Omaha Beach in the invasion of the Normandy. There the division known as “Hell on Wheels” fought the Germans near Avranches and then crossed through France as part of the Third Army before reaching Germany in September 1944. The 2nd Armored Division was the first to reach the Elbe River in mid-April 1945, which is where the Fury story begins.

To get a sense of what the men of the Armored Divisions experienced as they fought to end the war, we can look to the Universal Newsreel Collection and see the stories the public was shown at the time. While there may not be specific footage of the 2nd Armored Division, these Universal News stories feature tank warfare in Germany during April 1945.

Keep reading at: The Unwritten Record » The Fury of Hell on Wheels: Tank Warfare, April 1945


In the top photo, a Company H, 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division M4 Sherman “Hurricane” is loaded onto an LST in preparation for the Allied invasion of Normandy; England - June 1944

This particular M4 Sherman, “Hurricane” landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day +1 where the tank and its crew saw intense combat for the next nine weeks in northern France.

The second photo shows the “Hurricane” getting its engine replaced in a French field on 17 August 1944.

Photos by the US Army Signal Corps

MP Lt. Paul Unger, 2nd Armoured Division, searching the POW SS-Untersturmführer Kurt Peters, III.Battalion/SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 37, 17.SS-Pz.Gren.Div. ‘Götz von Berlichingen’, in the area of Notre Dame de Cenilly, 18 Km SW of Saint Lô, France. 27/7/44.

The 2nd Armored Division was formed at Fort Benning, Georgia on 15 July 1940. Colonel George S Patton was in charge of training and went on to command the division. 

During WWII the division participated in the 1942 invasion of North Africa and 1943 Invasion of Sicily. Under the command of General Edward H Brooks the Division landed on Omaha beach 9th July 1944 and took part in the liberation of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, driving across the Rhine on 27 March 1945 and were first American unit to enter Berlin.


I found these newspaper clippings in an old scrapbook that was at my grandparent’s house. They mark the time my grandfather and great-uncle were in WWII.

  • “My sincere good wishes to the 2nd Armored Division – Veronica Lake” - Hell on Wheels, July 25, 1945.
  • “Strip Tease Act Gets 3 Encores” – Unknown
Watch on msamy72.tumblr.com

Fury Trailer

The coming film Fury stars Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña, Jason Isaacs, and Scott Eastwood.

The crew of the soldiers of the Waffen-SS is resting in a field a heavy tank Pz.Kpfw. VI Ausf. E"Tiger" during the battle of Kursk. The tank belonged to the 2nd armored division “Das Reich” (2.SS-Pz.Div. “Das Reich”), was part of the 102nd heavy tank battalion (s.SS-Pz.Abt.102).

Above: M4A2E8 Sherman. ‘FURY’    

The Sherman tank from the Film 'Fury’ seen at the Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset.
(by Jerry Garrett)

In the movie, “Fury“, U. S. Army Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) commands a tank with a five-man crew in the storied 66th Armored Regiment in the 2nd Armored Division, as it is invading the heart of Germany in April 1945 – just days before the Nazi surrender.

Trivia question: What kind of tank is Pitt commanding?

In the movie, it was a Sherman M4A3E8, more commonly known as an “Easy Eight”.

If the movie was based on a real character – and supposedly it is not – Collier would not have been driving an Easy Eight. And he wouldn’t have been fighting a German Tiger TI – but we digress.

In the film, since a point is made in the movie that Collier loves his tank, and he and the crew have named it “Fury” – the name they’ve painted on its 76 mm gun barrel. Supposedly, they’ve all been fighting together – in Fury – since the North Africa campaign in 1942. If that was so, Fury would have probably been a much earlier model M4 Sherman, like an M2 or M4A3, each of which went into production in 1942. But with a 50 percent casualty rate in most mid-WWII tank battles, an earlier M2 or M4 model that survived 3+ years of combat would have been unheard of. (In fact, only one Sherman tank – a Canadian one – is known to have survived as long as from June 1944’s D-Day all the way to May 1945’s V-E Day.)

In real life, the Easy Eight, equipped with its 76 mm gun, was a relatively late addition to the war effort – only in production since late 1944. The Easy Eight featured a bigger gun and a better suspension. And they were not completely at the mercy of German tanks.

Production notes mention that Fury was designed and built by Henry Ford, and the German tanks were masterminded by Ferdinand Porsche. (Ergo, it was not a fair fight!) Yeah, okay, kinda sorta. Ford Motor Company didn’t design the Sherman, but it did build them – but only 1,690 M4A3s from June 1942 to September 1943. In all, about 50,000 were built for the war – and the vast majority of Shermans were built by General Motors and Chrysler.

The comparatively rare Ford-built Shermans were equipped with Ford’s 450-horsepower, 18-liter GAA V8 engine – originally a V12 knock-off of Rolls-Royce Merlin and Allison aviation engines that were supposed to be used in American planes. When the Navy turned the Ford V12 down – because they decided to use radial engines – Ford lopped off four cylinders and converted it into a tank engine.

I believe the tank used in the movie had a Ford engine, but it was not a battle-scared M4 from the North Africa campaign.

So why use (possibly) the wrong tank in a movie that insisted so much on realism and authenticity (okay, other than the men’s haircuts)? Probably because there aren’t many surviving WWII tanks available to today’s filmmakers.

The American tanks in the movie – ten were used – were all M4A3E8s and all came from the Bovington Tank Museum in southern England (if you go, “Fury” is the one with serial # T224875) where the movie was principally filmed.

The last WWII Tiger tank?
That’s also where the filmmakers got the movie’s nearly indestructible German Tiger I tank (a.k.a. “Panzers”) – a relic that was out of production by 1945. But the one at the tank museum is reputed to be the only surviving Tiger 131 tank still in working order.

The Tiger was a feared fighting machine, but among the criticisms leveled at it was that it was heavy, cumbersome and over-engineered – you know, just like today’s German cars! (Just kidding. Sort of.) America’s Shermans, to their credit, were considered manueverable, reliable and quick on the draw (like a gunfighter – another relevant comparison).

But, the point is – regardless of some of the plot disconnects in Fury – by that time in World War II, Germany had far superior tanks (albeit fewer of them), and could blow most of the American tanks to smithereens. Earlier in the war, it was a much more even fight; but the Germans continued to improve their tanks, while the Americans stupidly did little in that regard. And the tank crews, like those in Fury, paid a terrible price.