The Very Unfortunate Sherman

During my trip through the Ardennes last February I visited a number of tank monuments among which the M4 ‘Ginsling’ located in Wibrin. The tank was lost during a fierce battle round the town on 14 January 1945 and now stands as a memorial to the soldiers, resistance fighters and civilian casualties of The Second World War.

I have seen this tank referred to as ‘the very unfortunate Sherman’ – and if you think about it, this tank indeed has had a fair share of bad luck. Not only is its gun spiked and the glacis cleanly penetrated twice, literally half of it is missing.

The ‘unlucky Sherman’ was part of the attack on Wibrin by the 2nd Armored Division at January 14, 1945 ​[1]​. Together with five other Sherman tanks and mounted infantry they ran into a pair of Panthers and a Sturmgeschütz of the 116th Panzer-Division ‘Windhund’. The Panthers and StuG had taken up a blocking position near the road leading through the town. According to Max-Diether von Elterlein’s diary (PzRgt 16), the Panthers knocked out four of the Shermans while his StuG III Ausf. G with number ‘706’, knocks out the last two of the American tanks ​[1], [2]​.

It remains unclear whether Wibrin’s Sherman was shot by the StuG or one of the Panthers. Hans Herbst of PzGrenRgt. 60 remembers the latter happened1 ​[3]​. He elaborates what he had seen through his binoculars: the first shot bouncing off the Sherman’s frontal armour, and the second hit the bolts on the differential cover. As the Sherman began to turn his turret, it was fatally hit and the tank began to burn.

The story that is often repeated that the gun barrel was destroyed in battle is untrue. It was only after the war that the barrel sustained the damage we see today. A live shell was discovered by Belgian deminers, still in the barrel. The shell was discarded by blowing it up in-situ ​[4]​.

Though many tank wrecks remained after the war, it was decided by the town to keep one of the American tanks as memorial, but when scrap merchants began dismantling German tanks around the area this tank was cut up too by accident ​[4]​. The scrappers were stopped after interference of the mayor’s son. Since then the tank (or rather the parts of it that remained) have been sitting next to the church on Rue de la Copette near the mayor’s house. In 2009 the tank was taken away for repainting and was placed on a concrete pedestal ​[5]​. The tank provides an unique opportunity to inspect the inside of a Sherman tank: no need to climb through the hatch, you can just walk right in!

The tank is labelled inside as M4A3, which seems to be incorrect. Based on the shape of the bulges on the glacis typical for the small hatch Shermans, this tank can be identified as either an M4A2 or late M4(75). The early small hatch M4A3 as produced by Ford has distinct rectangular bulges not present on the Wilbrin Sherman ​[6]​. According to Bergström, British troops handed over their (Diesel) M4A2’s to the 2nd Armored Division before the attack on Wibrin which could mean this is actually a M4A2 after all ​[1]​. The exact model remains hard to corroborate as the most distinguishing feature, the engine (deck), is missing in its entirety.

The tank features the one piece ‘E4186’ differential cover which replaced the earlier three piece design ​[7]​. Note the integrated splash guard which protected the bolts from direct fire. Most track links feature ‘duckbills’ increasing flotation on soft ground.

  1. [1]
    C. Bergström, The Ardennes, 1944-1945: Hitler’s Winter Offensive. Casemate , 2014.
  2. [2]
    Uwe (UHF51), “Auszug aus dem Tagebuch des Leutnants Max Diether v. Elterlein,” Wehrmacht-Forum, 31-May-2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.wehrmacht-forum.de/index.php?thread/3708-16-infanterie-division-mot-16-panzer-grenadier-division-116-panzer-division-die/&postID=31440#post31440
  3. [3]
    M. King, The Battle of the Bulge: The Allies’ Greatest Conflict on the Western Front. Arcturus , 2019.
  4. [4]
    H. Wenkin and C. Dujardin, Les témoins d’acier – Gros plans sur les chars de Bastogne, Clervaux, Houffalize, Wibrin et Wiltz. Weyrich, 2017.
  5. [5]
    N. Lallemant, “Le Sherman a quitté Wibrin,” DH Les Sports+, 30-Sep-2009. [Online]. Available: https://www.dhnet.be/archive/le-sherman-a-quitte-wibrin-51b7e92ee4b0de6db997b328
  6. [6]
    P.-O. Buan, J. DeMarco , and L. Hulbert, “Sherman driver’s hoods and hatches,” Sherman Minutia. [Online]. Available: http://the.shadock.free.fr/sherman_minutia/hoods_hatches/hoods_hatches.html
  7. [7]
    P.-O. Buan, J. DeMarco , and L. Hulbert, “Sherman differential covers,” Sherman Minutia. [Online]. Available: http://the.shadock.free.fr/sherman_minutia/differential/differential_covers.html

Footnotes

  1. See this fragment of The Greatest Tank Battles documentary. They seem to have mistakenly placed these events in December 1944[]

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