The German Army planed to advance towards Antwerp in an effort to split the Allied armies in the middle of winter in a surprise attack that became known as the Battle of the Bulge. One of the most important parts of the plan was to take the bridges over the Meuse River. They failed. British and American units defended the banks of the River Meuse. The Hermeton-sur-Meuse British Sherman Firefly tank (retro fitted with a standard 75mm gun turret) is on the banks of the river Meuse.
This preserved British Sherman Firefly Tank hull has been retro fitted with a 75mm gun turret and is now the Belgium village of Hermeton-sur-Meuse's Battle of the Bulge memorial. (Photo - Albert Pujadas)
Set your Sat-Nav for the village of Hermeton-sur-Meuse then Rue de France. It is 100 yards south of the junction with the road called Domaine de Montmeuse. The Sherman tank is exhibited on the west bank of the river Meuse. There is a car park by the side of the river behind the tank.
Notice the hull machine gun has been removed and additional armour plates have been added to the front of the tank as well as to the side. (Photo - Albert Pujadas)
The Sherman was powered by a Chrysler A57 multibank petrol engine that produced 470 hp. The tank needed a slightly longer hull to fit the engine. It had a maximum road speed of 30 mph (48 km/h). The tank had an operational range of around 120 miles (193 km) before it needed refueling. It needed a five man crew: commander, gunner, loader, driver, co-driver/machine gunner. They were protected by armour that ranged in thickness from 25 mm to 76 mm. Between July 1942 and November 1943 7,499 M4A4 Shermans were manufactured
The tank was armed with a standard 75mm gun that could fire high explosive HE artillery rounds as well as armour piercing AP shells. It could penetrate the frontal armour of a Panzer IV tank but not the front armour on the Panther or Tiger tank. To do any damage to their side or rear armour they had to get close. The 17pdr gun fitted to the Firefly could penetrate that armour. The tank was also armed with two 30-60 Browning M1919A machine guns. One was next to the main gun in the turret whilst the other was in a ball mount in the hull but on some Firefly tanks the hull machine gun was removed.
Battle of the Bulge Memorial British Sherman Firefly Tank at Hermeton-sur-Meuse in Belgium (Photo - Albert Pujadas)
The Jumbo and the Firefly story
When I first went to Hermeton-sur-Meuse in 1991 the Firefly tank was not there. A large rare heavily armoured Sherman Jumbo tank was positioned by the side of the road with its gun pointing towards the other side of the trees as if waiting for the German tanks to appear on the other bank.
At the end of WW2 the Jumbo Sherman tank was offered to the local leader of the French resistance, a medical doctor, for use as a war memorial. When he died the heirs of his estate claimed the Jumbo tank as their own. When the ownership of the tank was investigated it appeared that the US Army still owned the tank.
The US government started negotiations to get it shipped back to America because it was rare and worth a lot of money. They were not happy it was just left by the side of the road as a war memorial. After a year of talking a strange deal was agreed to. The Jumbo tank would stay in Belgium. It would be restored but kept by the Royal Museum of Armed Forces and Military History (Le Musee royal de l'Armee et d'Histoire Militaire).
This M4A3E2(75) Jumbo was moved from the Brussels Military museum during the recent redistribution of some of its exhibits and is now held at the depot of the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces, in Landen, Belgium. Its Serial Number is 50511, the correct Registration Number is 3083108.
The village of Hermeton-sur-Meuse, in the commune de Hastiere, still wanted a tank as a war memorial. They were offered the hull of a British Sherman Firefly. Its 17pdr gun and turret had been destroyed beyond repair so it was fitted with a standard 75mm gun turret.
The man in charge of the local tank restoration group called 'Devoir de Memoire' (Duty of Memory) was Marc Robert. During the overhaul he managed to find and arrange for the refitting of missing parts with the agreement of the new owners, the Royal Museum of Armed Forces and Military History (Le Musee royal de l'Armee et d'Histoire Militaire). As you can see from the photos The M4A4 Firefly was originally called 'Battling Annie' but in 2016 it received an new coat of paint and identity. She is now called Doly. Is that a spelling mistake? Shouldn't it be Dolly?
The new paint scheme and identity of the Battle of the Bulge Memorial British Sherman Firefly Tank at Hermeton-sur-Meuse in Belgium. She is now called 'Doly' not 'Battling Annie'. (Photo - Albert Pujadas)
Sherman 75mm Vs Panther Tank
When it did get light enough to see that the tanks at the bottom of the hill were indeed German Mark V Panthers, I had my gunner, Bob Gladson, lay our gun on the closest German tank. He fired. Our 75 mm armour piercing AP round bounced off the German tank.
My loader, Andy Rego, reloaded and we fired again with the same result. I believe we fired three or four rounds of armor piercing ammo at this German tank. None of our rounds caused him any damage. In the meantime, the German tank had picked up our position from the muzzle blast of our tank gun. He laid his gun on our tank and began firing.
After my tank was hit, it began to burn, Gladson, Rego, Calvin Bolden and myself were able to get out. Henry Lochowicz, the driver, couldn't get his hatch open as our tank gun was directly over his hatch, I ran around in front of the tank and yelled at Lochowicz to crawl back through the turret and get out through the tank commander's hatch. He did this. Outside of some minor cuts and bruises everyone was okay.
A narrow escape
We were on the side of a hill and we were putting brush on to camouflage the tank and I heard Whang! His tank was just above mine, higher on the hill and sideways. And I look out and in the mist I see a German Panther tank, maybe 2,000 yards away and I saw another flash. With our short barrelled 75mm gun it was pointless to fire back. We would cause no damage at that distance.
As I saw the other flash, Andy Hill goes running by and he had blood and stuff all over him. And I said to myself in my subconscious mind, 'How the hell is he running with his guts all over him?' But it wasn't his. It was the guy next to him, I shouted to my driver, 'Never mind this goddamn brush, let's get the hell out of here'. We escaped by the driving fast into a sunken Normandy hedge lined farm track.