Rosey had some accumulated days off at work, so yesterday she took one and carried me to see the new war movie, Fury. Fury is a gritty look at armored and armored infantry combat in World War II, and it presents the dangers American tankers and their supporting infantry faced. My Uncle Bill was an armored infantryman in World War II, and I wish now that I had asked him more questions about his experiences when he was alive. One thing that came through loud and clear to me was Bill's absolute hatred of Nazis and especially the SS. From the few conversations I had with him after I was grown up enough to appreciate them, I got the feeling that members of the Waffen SS had a tough time surrendering to Bill's outfit, especially after news of the Malmedy massacre got around. This is portrayed in the movie with unblinking eye.
The time is April 1945 and as the Americans move deeper into Germany they come across evidence of Nazi atrocities, including the summary execution of civilians (including children) who are deemed by the SS to be "deserters" to the cause of the Fatherland. Their bodies are left dangling from telephone poles with signs on them. One SS officer captured in the movie is summarily executed after the burgomaster, in response to a question from Brad Pitt's character, condemns him with a nod as one of the ones who has been executing children.
In another scene, a German soldier is captured wearing a GI overcoat. This outrages the tankers and armored infantrymen. Subsequently he is shot and Rosey did not understand why. He was a prisoner, after all, and due the protections of the Geneva Convention. I pointed out that the coat didn't seem to have any holes in it or blood on it. What pissed off the armored infantrymen was that the guy had probably made his captive strip it off. Had he killed the GI afterward? We cannot know, but the GIs, as with all soldiers in combat, assumed the worst, hence he had to die. Somebody in that unsympathetic crowd was bound to shoot him, although how he meets his end at the unwilling hands of a green replacement is perhaps the most controversial scene in the movie. I don't think my Uncle Bill would have quibbled with it's portrayal, though.
The fact that there were absolutely green replacements with no tank experience used in the latter part of the war is incontrovertible. This was made necessary by the ghastly casualty rates among tankers as they pitted their substandard, poorly armed and armored Shermans against superior German tanks. (Worse than the other defects was the fact that our tanks were gasoline-powered, which made them so susceptible to "brewing up" in a ball of flame when hit that the British called them "Ronsons" after their cigarette lighter.) As Third Armored Division ordnance officer Belton Y. Cooper wrote in his memoir Death Traps The Survival of an American Armored Division in World War II, his division entered France with 232 Sherman tanks, but by the end of the war, it had lost 648 Shermans totally destroyed, and an additional 700 had been knocked out of action and later repaired - a loss rate of 580%. Men -- trained armored crewmen -- died along with those tanks (a full crew for a Sherman was five, although losses often dictated that a tank might have to operate with as few as three men) and the stateside replacements could not be trained fast enough to make good the losses, hence the use of raw place-fillers. That, in turn, got a lot of other good men killed, something that is portrayed in Fury with an unblinking eye.
I was also lucky when I was growing up to live down the road from a one-eyed Buckeye farmer named Cliff McMahon. Mr. McMahon described himself as one of the luckiest men alive. I went to school with one of his sons and participated in 4H so I got to know Cliff, a tanker with the 1st Armored Division, who had lost an eye at Kasserine Pass crewing an M-3 Grant tank. The M-3, predecessor to the Sherman, was even worse, with the main gun, a low velocity 75mm, located in a sponson on the side, making it necessary to traverse the whole tank in order to engage targets on the move. Worse than that, however, was the fact that the Grant had riveted armor plate rather than cast, and when struck even a glancing blow with a German anti-tank projectile, would blow the rivets inward, ricocheting around the inside like so many bullets. It was one of these that took out Cliff's eye and ended his war.
M-3 Grant tank with riveted construction.
Cliff called himself the luckiest man alive because of all the men in his tank company in North Africa, very few survived to the end of the war.
M-3 Grant tank after an encounter with the Germans in North Africa.
Fury, the tank in the movie, is an M4A3E8, known as an "Easy Eight." Upgraded from earlier Shermans in response to its glaring deficiencies, the Easy Eight has much better suspension and a high-velocity 76mm gun which at least gave it a fighting chance against most German tanks, although the frontal armor of the Tigers would still resist them. Most tank-to-tank kills with such behemoths were accomplished by flanking tactics of the more numerous Shermans, getting around the Germans for a flank or rear shot. This was necessarily wasteful of tanks and their precious crews and is portrayed with nail-biting accuracy in Fury.
I had a few quibbles with the final climactic battle scene, but all in all, Fury is one of the best war movies I've ever seen, better certainly than Saving Private Ryan. (Plus, I loved the Grease Guns killing Nazis.)