Sherman tank recovered at Lejeune;

22 Aug 2002 | Sgt. Joshua S. Higgins

The Marine Corps is well-known for its warfighting ability. In fact, the U.S. military has a long history of adapting to and overcoming great adversity.

That is why when retired Sgt. Maj. Joe Houle found out there was an M-4 Sherman tank tucked away in Camp Lejeune's dense forestry, he immediately took action.

"She'll look great once we get her restored back to the way she looked 50 years ago," said Houle, referring to the only tank of its kind left in the Marine Corps today.

Houle, director of the Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas, and other supporters of the intended museum contacted officials here more than a year ago in an attempt to retrieve the Sherman tank. Their efforts paid off Aug. 14 when Marines with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2d Transportation Support Battalion, and others pulled the tank from its grave near Tactical Landing Zone Cardinal here.  Houle, a Jacksonville, N.C., local, said he looks forward to seeing the tank fully refurbished and inside the museum at its opening planned for 2004.

"There is a lot of history behind this tank," said Houle. "When we get it fully restored we should be able to track it all the way back to the Marines who once drove it."     

The concept for the Sherman tank came after Germany defeated France in a matter of only weeks in 1940 through the use of an operational doctrine based on fast-moving, mass armored formations supported by air power. America's leaders became convinced the U.S. military needed a new main battle tank at least equal to those employed by the Germans, and later that year the War Department authorized the development of a new medium tank. In 1941 the first prototype of the M-4 Sherman tank debuted and went into production.

Emphasis for the tank was built around speed and mobility. The M-4's main armament was a short-barreled, low-velocity 75 mm gun, and its armor thickness was a maximum of 75 mm, allowing the tank to reach speeds of 29 miles per hour. The vehicle carried a crew of five, weighed nearly 35 tons, and was powered by a 425-horsepower gasoline engine.

There were many variations of the M-4 and it was often retrofitted with special purpose devices, making it a workhorse for both America and its allies during the war. The British Army added flails (a system of rotors and chains) to clear paths through minefields, and American servicemen added jury-rigged plows for breaking through dense hedgerows in Normandy. The tank found here was equipped with a flamethrower, which proved a valuable tool during the "Island Hopping Campaign" against the Japanese.

"These tanks were used as bunker busters during the war, and the Japanese feared them because of their power," said Houle. "The Japanese were known for their bunkers and pill boxes, so the Shermans with flamethrowers played a huge role in winning the war."

Chief Warrant Officer-2 Raul Fiveash, equipment platoon commander with C Company, 8th ESB, said the tank sat at the landing zone for at least 30 years and mother nature almost completely engulfed it, making its extraction no easy task.

He said his Marines cleared a path to the tank and went as far as digging dirt by hand because trees were in the way and they did not want to cut them down and risk one falling on it. Then the Marines placed sled-shaped planks where the tracks would be so the tank would slide easily from its resting place. 

"There was a lot of work involved with this project," said Fiveash.

He said it took nearly two months to pull the tank out, and the job could not have been accomplished without the support of the Base Forestry Division and 2d TSB.

Houle agreed with Fiveash, saying the tank's retrieval was definitely a consolidated effort, and he and everyone else involved with the Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas appreciates the hard work and dedication put forth during the recovery of one more piece of Marine Corps History.