Last weekend’s Fury has a stellar cast. With Brad Pitt leading a tank crew including Logan Lerman, Michael Pena of End of Watch and Shooter, The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal, and Transformers frontman Shia LaBoeuf, it promises to be a full eight knuckles of action greatness. But the biggest star might be the title character: a 1944 Detroit/Fisher M4A3E8 Sherman tank. Here’s a little more about Fury’s 30 ton showstopper.
Over the decades we’ve built up quite a library of great World War II movies focusing on specific groups of fighters. The Normandy invaders, the Pacific Marines, the fighter and bomber pilots, the Airborne infantry, even the French resistance. But unless you count Humphrey Bogart’s 1943 propaganda adventure, Sahara (which is a fun romp if you can stomach the poor film transfer), you might be hard pressed to find a single World War II tank movie, especially one that honestly and accurately portrays the horrific struggle of the men who plowed these steel coffins into the heart of the Axis.
Not until Fury. Movie director David Ayer’s new film isn’t designed to be a sprawling epic, but an intimate look at a single tank crew over a short period of time. Ayer, who served in the Navy and has written and directed other hard-boiled action movies like Sabotage, End of Watch, Training Day, and U-571, seems the perfect choice for Fury’s dedicated violence and realism.
That came right down to his decision to use real tanks in the movie, rather than purpose-built props, including the M4 Sherman tank playing the Fury itself, and the last remaining Tiger 131.
Shermans served everywhere during World War II, but are perhaps best known for their efforts in the North African and European campaigns. At the start of the war, the best tank in America’s arsenal was the M2, which was low on power, thin on armor, limited in combat mobility, and high in visible profile. Its successor, the M3 Lee, was quickly designed and built, and wasn’t much better. They were eclipsed in mid-1942 by German Panzers and Tigers.
The first M4 Shermans entered service soon after, and proved so effective they replaced the M3s almost entirely. They were faster, more heavily armored, and more capable off-road. Perhaps most importantly, though, stood the Sherman’s fully rotating turret, complete with a gyroscopically stabilized gun and sight, as opposed to the M3’s side-mounted sponson gun. Nearly 50,000 M4s were built over the course of the war, and they’re often cited as providing the backbone to the offensive force in Europe.
Power came from a number of engines, including a Continental radial, a GM diesel, a Caterpillar radial diesel, and a Chrysler straight 6 gas mill. But the M4A3E2 playing the Fury was, and is, pushed by a gas Ford V8.
The Ford GAA was an 18.0 liter (1,100 cid) V8 capable of 525 hp and 1000 ft lbs of torque. That might sound like a killer swap for your Mustang, but in a 30 ton tank, it was just enough to get it up to 30 mph on smooth roads.
That power ran from the engine at the back of the tank through a drive shaft to a four speed manual (plus one reverse) up front, and then on to a pair of drive sprockets, also up front. That’s right, the hero tank of WWII was front-wheel drive. Sortof.
The V8 produced immense heat, and gas fumes often leaked into the cabin. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be. Furthermore, being the deadliest thing on the battlefield tends to draw enemy fire. Thankfully, the Sherman’s 76mm armor performed well. And it had a few features for fighting back.
The turret bore a 3 inch (76.2 mm) gun, with storage for 55 rounds of ammunition. The secondary weapon was a turret-mounted .50 caliber machine gun, and the tertiary a 30 caliber machine gun, though in the trailer for Fury, a second .50 cal has been added to the turret, as well.
Modification like this was not uncommon during the war, and many Shermans finished the War more customized than modern Honda Civics. Some bore hedgerow cutters, others snorkels for water crossings, and most were bolstered with sandbags or other makeshift armor.
These were all things Fury’s actors learned over a painstaking 4 months of training. They spent time with surviving tank operators of the era, trained to operate the Fury, and filmed in the cold and wet. If that sounds like a fun adventure, listen to the rest of their regimen.
Ayer forced the crew to live in the tank for days on end- eating, sleeping, crapping. He had them get into fistfights, keep night watches, undergo a boot camp run by Navy Seals. He wanted them to feel what real tankers felt, to push them into places of suffering. “They got us to do things that we can’t talk about. And I’m not sure I’m proud of some of those things,” said Jon Bernthal.
Shia LaBoeuf, known for his extreme and controversial method acting, had one of his teeth removed, and cut his face in place of makeup. He also refused to shower for the whole shoot, drawing the ire of his costars, and spent a month and a half with an army unit on an actual forward operating base.
Whatever their avenues, I’m glad Ayer and the cast went to such extreme lengths to incorporate authenticity for everyone involved. We’ve seen Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Band of Brothers, and The Pacific, and HBO is even working on another mini series about Naval Aviators in the Pacific Theater, but we have yet to see a movie about the guys in the tanks.
Fury, which opened nationwide last weekend, will be that movie, and nothing will be cooler than seeing that Sherman back in action.
Check out the Fury movie trailer below.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.