Saw “Fury” on its opening night. It’s well worth seeing. It is a brutal, realistic, violent portrayal of tank warfare, a story not often told let alone told so well. This is likely the best movie I’ve ever seen or heard of that focuses on the subject. The emotional roller coaster is wrought with plunging dives into one’s emotional reservoir. I came out stunned. “Fury” does for WWII tankers what “Saving Private Ryan” did for WWII Rangers and Paratroopers.
“Fury” revolves around the tank crew of a late war M4A3E8 Sherman tank with “Fury” crudely painted on the barrel of its 76mm cannon. The crew is commanded by Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt). The rest of the crew consists of veterans Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf) the gunner, Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) the loader, Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena) the driver and the very green and sensitive Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a soldier clerk empressed into serving as the bow gunner due to a shortage of trained tank crewman. The cast portrays their nicknames flawlessly.
From a historical equipment, military depiction perspective the movie is a work of art. Unlike most war movies there are relatively few inaccuracies to distract from the movie’s message. I loved how SGT Collier employed different types of rounds against different targets as well as his personal idiosyncrasies of carrying a revolver and an MP44. The interactions between soldiers, superiors, subordinates, civilians and the enemy come across as authentic.
The unsung heroes of the movie are the tanks. The movie features the last running Tiger tank in a climactic scene and uses several versions of the Sherman which would have been very accurate for the time. Unlike today’s units, US units did have mismatched equipment as new vehicles were supplied to replace older models that were destroyed on combat and older models were retained until they were considered obsolete. This is noticeable when looking at the American tank platoon that had various models of the M4 Sherman. Important because only the latest Shermans armed with a 76mm high velocity gun had any real chance of penetrating most German heavy and medium tanks (Panzer V’s and VI’s or Panthers and Tigers respectively)and even then at a fraction of the distance German tanks could engage and destroy Shermans. It wasn’t uncommon to need a five to one ratio of Shermans to Tigers to overwhelm the enemy.
The Sherman was robust, simple and plentiful but its armor was no match for most German tanks and anti-armor weapons that were clearly superior to ours. It’s very common to see Shermans from WWII sporting “hillbilly” armor, plates of steel cut from whatever was available and welded on to the outside of the tank as well as a healthy coating of sandbags and tree trunks. The strengths of the Sherman were actually the same reasons the US was woefully slow in developing and fielding a tank that could at least match German armor. It was believed by higher ups that quantity was key to defeating the axis and news was slow to reach them (a sin of both omission and commission) that the Sherman was so clearly outclassed. So poor was the reputation of the Sherman that the British nickname for the vehicle was the “Ronson” a popular lighter at the time.
Besides the Sherman’s armor relatively poor performance against German AT weapons, another reason for the Sherman’s susceptibility to its ammunition exploding after being hit (alson known as “brewing up”) was because almost half of the turret ring stored the “ready” ammunition. This made it readily accessible to hot metal flying around that tank and igniting it. This was resolved in later models of the Sherman where shells were stored in liquid jackets to protect them somewhat from internal shrapnel. It at least provided crews precious seconds to abandon the vehicle if it were hit. A tank the brews up often has blowtorch like flame bursting out of the hatches that are blown off if the tank doesn’t lose its whole turret first (a very common occurrence among the Iraqi tanks I observed in Iraq in ’91).
I won’t share any spoilers but the emotional and moral toll soldiers pay in combat is well addressed in the film though in a very compressed timeframe and a depiction of some Nazi excesses I don’t believe are historically supported. As I watched the film SGT Collier’s approach to defeating Nazisim reminded me of the attitude we should have in approaching radical Islam. Reasoning with evil is pointless let alone dangerous. Those that try and reason with evil are unaware of the truth that SGT Collier’s most memorable and profound line speaks to, “Ideology is peaceful. History is violent.” It’s the difference between idealism and practice.
Check out Fury at a theatre near you and find out why the Fury’s crew all say, “Best job I ever had.”