Fury: A Tanker’s Eye View | HistoryNet

Fury: A Tanker’s Eye View

By Lloyd Emerson
12/10/2014 • World War II

This review of the film Fury appears in the January/February issue of our new interactive iPad edition, along with other exciting bonus content. To learn more, check out the World War II magazine app in the iTunes app store. New subscribers interested in the iPad edition can subscribe in the HistoryNet shop. Current subscribers who wish to add a digital subscription in addition to print should contact our customer service team at 1-800-435-0715. For more help with subscriptions, please read our Digital Edition FAQ

I’m glad a young friend—when you’re 90, somebody 64 is young—invited me to see Fury, the movie about GIs in Sherman tanks fighting in Germany in April 1945. In April 1945 I was a GI in Germany fighting in a Sherman tank, and I wondered how close the film gets to what I remember.

It gets darned close. Fury shows 88mm rounds and Panzerfausts hitting Shermans, and a mine blowing the tread off a Sherman. Coincidentally, I was in a Sherman hit by an 88 (it lodged in the engine compartment without exploding, and we had no casualties), and another Sherman that set off a Teller mine—two mines stacked, actually. And in April 1945 Germans shot my third tank with a pair of Panzerfausts.

Fury does show accurately how Shermans went into battle: spread out. And the film conveys the excitement of combat. The first time I was shot at in my life was that 88 round coming through the armor—totally mind-boggling. I could relate to the new soldier in the movie who six weeks before had been studying typing. Like him, I was as alien to the tank as the tank was to me. That part of the film is very well done. Perhaps the young soldier becomes a warrior a little too quickly, but I don’t have any trouble believing that men who fought through North Africa and Sicily and Europe, as the other characters in the movie have, would be hard men. I came into the fight in late 1944, and I wasn’t as hard as they are.

The movie also gets the emotions of combat right. I was in another Sherman with heavied-up armor when an 88mm crew a few hundred yards away fired at us. Their round hit but bounced off, which I’m sure surprised the Germans. Inside, the spot where that shot struck glowed red. The guy on the .30-caliber turret coaxial machine gun had seen where the round had come from. He laid a tracer onto the 88 and aimed our 76mm cannon and fired and that was that. I was watching through my periscope and saw the explosion and the bodies flying, the way they do in the movie. None of that affected me. You would have thought we had won the big game, yelling and screaming, until we reached the wreckage and saw the real horror of what had happened to those men. All of a sudden we were exhausted, same as the actors playing the crew.

I never experienced a one-on-one tank battle like the one in the movie, however. We fought at considerable distances. One of the few times we came upon a German tank we were taking a city, and down the street we saw the barrel of a Panther medium tank. We knew better than to try to fight it. We surrounded the Panther and called in a tank destroyer that had a gun capable of finishing it off.

In the movie a GI shoots a POW, and soldiers watching clap and laugh. I did see a mean little infantryman guarding some Germans hit and punch a prisoner, and when the prisoner ran that GI shot him. But no one clapped or laughed. In another scene the tank platoon takes a town. There’s a building full of what are supposed to be German soldiers who turn out to be just kids; well, we once drove into an enemy roadblock, and afterward we saw the “soldiers” who’d been defending it. They were just kids.

I did see things in the film to pick on. Some but not all of the violence is overdone. I don’t recall our fights lasting as long as the battles in the movie do, and when tanks road-march in Fury, they bunch up. Our battles were over in a flash, and the Third Army road-marched with around 50 yards or more between tanks—but then, we weren’t making a movie. When we threw a tread, our commander didn’t peremptorily say, “Fix it,” and walk away, as if you could jack up a 33-ton tank like a car with a flat tire; everyone on the crew threw in on the job. And I don’t remember a Sherman having as much room inside as the tank in the movie seems to.

Otherwise Fury gets it right, especially the sergeant Brad Pitt plays. When a young lieutenant orders him and several other sergeants to move out, he says, “The war’s not going anywhere, sir,” and lights a cigarette. That’s how some sergeants were. Those sergeants took no shit from anybody, even generals. They were the backbone of the army.

All in all Fury does a pretty good job of showing tankers at war, and also what a stupid waste war is. I hate to admit it but Fury took me back to a high point in my life, which is what makes war so horrible. We wind up making movies that can’t help but glamorize killing people because war is so damned exciting.  —Lloyd Emerson served as a loader and radioman in the Third Army’s 11th Armored Division.

9 Responses to Fury: A Tanker’s Eye View

  1. Lewis says:

    Thank you for your service.

  2. Rammstein says:

    And not a word about the last scene in the movie. That is pretty strange, isn’t it?

    • Barry Madikiner says:

      Yeah I know, I much prefer my reviews to have spoilers in them. I don’t know about you but nothing gets me going more than knowing major plot points and the ending before I actually see the movie.

  3. vss1 says:

    To our WW2 Tank Vet reviewer, thank you for what you and your comrades did for us. I have not seen the movie. I might now, thanks to this review. And comment from Rammstein on the last scene. I find U.S. WW2 films of the last couple of decades to be the product of Hollywood and media types out of touch with the reality of those days. Sorry; my view as son and grandson of WW2 combat Vets. I liked ‘When Trumpets Fade’, which shows the horror of the Hurtgen Forest battles. European films seem to get it right for my feeling about WW2 based on the reading of many first person memoirs from both US and European authors.

  4. YossarianLeFonda says:

    Thank you for your service–my Grandfather was 2nd Armored, and had an immeasurable influence on my life. Thank you for taking the time to tell it like it was. Too often people take to either extremes with regards to war and to the Armor, but you clearly have found the middle ground in how you view your experiences. This stuff is invaluable.

  5. AJ says:

    Ending was ridiculous. One disabled tank defeats a whole Waffen SS battalion. They show them marching with panzerfausts. The Germans could only run directly at the front of the tank and get shot by the machine guns on the front of the tank. Do you really think they didn’t know how to flank around a disabled tank and destroy it. Was laughable and so American Hollywood fantasy.

  6. Robert Murphy says:

    First off, this article is very informative, illuminating, and very well-written, if I may most humbly say. Hence, I mean no criticism here towards Mr. Emerson, who, unlike me, has first-hand experience on the subject, but the movie? Well, admirably, it seems at least roughly accurate, until the ludicrous, jingoistic ending. (AJ get’s it right.) My understanding is that even an immobilized Tiger II crew would bail out; an immobile tank is a dead tank.

  7. Sean says:

    The “room inside the tank” issue seems to be an artifact of how the set has to be built so that the production crew is _able_ to get the camera lines, and is endemic to _any_ dramatization showing the interior of a combat vehicle. I remember when I attended an air show and was able to go inside a B-17; it was surprising to see how _tiny_ it was inside compared to how the various crew stations looked in the movies. The various “Inside the Chieftain’s Hatch” videos that Wargaming.Net has produced has disabused me of the idea that tank designers do much more than check to make sure that it’s _possible_ to shoehorn all the crew in around the tank’s equipment, and the warships I’ve been aboard have showed a similar “crew space is an afterthought” design. The last gave me an appreciation for the stories my father told me about wearing his helmet whenever he was outside his cabin when he transferred to a new ship until he learned where all the low overheads were.

  8. James_D_in_TX says:

    Thank you for recollections Mr. Emerson! I’m glad you made it through the war. You probably owe your life to a nameless slave laborer who sabotaged that 88 round that would have killed you in your first combat encounter. The German armaments companies (Krup, Farben etc.) rented slaves from the SS concentration camps for a couple dollars a day until they were worked to death. I guess you get what you pay for. As you say, real war isn’t glamorous.

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