The movie “Fury” stars Brad Pitt as the commander of a Sherman tank of the same name who fights to keep his crew alive through the closing days of World War II.
Although the critics have given the movie mixed reviews armor and firearms buffs will appreciate the care given to portraying the hardware and firepower of the time. In many cases the weapons used help reveal insights into the characters and their roles in both the fictional tank’s crew and the story’s narrative.
Pitt’s character, Staff Sergeant Don “War Daddy” Collier, is the battle hardened vet archetype seen in practically every war movie. He’s been there, done that, and has the tanker jacket to prove it. Since he’s the leader of the crew, and the star of the movie, the filmmakers arm him in a way that reflects his character’s experience and helps him stand out from the rest.
War Daddy’s primary personal weapon is a captured German Sturmgewehr 44 (STG 44) in the 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge. This rifle is generally considered to be the first true “assault rifle” that split the difference between full-power rifles and pistol caliber submachine guns. The STG 44’s features, including the use of an intermediate cartridge, effectiveness in both semi-auto and full-auto modes, and detachable 30 round box magazine, set the standards for later rifles such as the Soviet AK-47 and U.S. M16. The STG fired at a rate of 550 to 600 rounds per minute. In use, the magazines were typically loaded to 25 rounds to reduce strain on the magazine springs.
By having Sgt. Collier carry this weapon the filmmakers show that he is experienced enough to understand the advantages offered by this rifle over the standard U.S. weapons, has been around long enough to scrounge one from the battlefield, and is respected enough that no one tries to take it away from him for being an “unauthorized weapon.” That subtext reveals a lot about the character to anyone familiar with WWII small arms.
War Daddy’s sidearm is another interesting, and revealing, choice. Instead of the standard U.S. Model 1911A1 .45 ACP pistol, or a captured German Luger, he carries a U.S. Model 1917 S&W revolver in .45 ACP.
The U.S. Model 1917 revolver was developed in World War I when the U.S. Army faced a shortage of Model 1911 pistols. Instead of taking the time to set up new production lines, the army asked Smith & Wesson and Colt to modify two of their large frame revolver designs to accept the standard .45 ACP cartridge used in the 1911. Both designs used stamped sheet metal “half moon” clips to allow the revolvers to function with the rimless .45 ACP ammunition.
Although more Model 1911A1’s were available for World War II, some left over Model 1917’s were issued as well. Early war photos show U.S. M3 Lee and M4 Sherman tank crews with Model 1917 revolvers during training exercises. Since Pitt’s character is supposed to have been a tank commander since at least the 1942 North African campaign it’s possible he retained the revolver he was issued during training. His sidearm is unique in that it is the only customized weapon seen in the movie. The standard wooden grip panels have been replaced with clear grips with a photo of a woman’s face under the grip. These so-called “sweetheart grips” were made by scavenging bits of Plexiglas from aircraft canopies and are a distinctive touch that further sets character apart. War Daddy carries his revolver in a custom made shoulder holster and the gun is prominently featured in two key moments in the film. The photo is never discussed so we don’t know if the woman is his wife or girlfriend.
In contrast to Pitt’s experienced Sergeant, Logan Lerman’s Private Norman Ellison is so green that he has “never even seen the inside of a tank before,” when he is assigned to Fury’s crew as a replacement assistant driver/bow gunner. Ellison’s gear reflects this: He wears the standard 1943 jacket, instead of a tanker jacket, and isn’t even issued a sidearm. Instead he is given a M3A1 Grease Gun, by the crew. The Grease Gun was designed as a cheaper replacement for the Thompson Submachine gun and, while effective, was never as popular with the troops as the Tommy Gun. The gun was made largely of stamped sheet metal and fired the .45 ACP round at about 450 rounds-per-minute from 30 round magazines.
The rest of the crew carry standard Model 1911A1 pistols and at least two M1A1 Thompson Submachine Guns. The Model 1911A1 was slight modification of the Model 1911 with an arched mainspring housing, shorter trigger, and other minor changes. It fired the .45 ACP cartridge from a seven round magazine. The M1A1 Thompson was the last variant of the famed gun that eliminated the costly and complicated Blish lock in favor of a straight blowback system. The M1A1 fired .45 ACP cartridges from 30 round magazines at a rate of about 600 – 650 rounds-per-minute.
These weapon choices are consistent with an experienced crew who use individual weapons to supplement the tank mounted weapons. With the exception of War Daddy’s STG 44, all the personal weapons fire the same .45 ACP ammunition, which makes resupply easier, and all were issued to tank crews in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). The crew’s preference for the Thompson, and their sticking the new guy with the Grease Gun, is consistent with the attitudes of vet armor crewmen.
The rest of the small arms used in the movie include all the standard WWII U.S. and German infantry weapons. The U.S. infantry carry M1 Garands, Browning Automatic Rifles, M1 Carbines, and Thompsons, while the German’s are armed with the standard Mauser K-98 bolt-action rifles, MP-40 9mm SMG’s, STG 44’s, and Panzerfaust anti-tank rockets.
This brings us to the big guns: The tanks.
The tank platoon in the movie is equipped with a mix of tanks armed with the M3 75mm main gun and tanks with the M1 76mm main gun. This accurately reflects wartime experience because although the 76mm gun was a better tank-killer, the 75mm gun had a better high explosive round and was more useful against enemy infantry, fortifications, anti-tank guns, and light vehicles. Since tanks mainly fought against such soft targets the 75mm tanks were retained even after the 76mm tanks replaced them on the assembly line.
The namesake tank, “Fury,” is supposed to be a late war Sherman M4A3E8 armed with a M1 76mm high-velocity gun. This is the ultimate World War II version of the Sherman with many significant improvements over the earlier versions. The M4A3 had a welded hull, slightly improved armor, an improved HVSS suspension, and a reliable gasoline engine. The 76mm tanks used the turret originally designed for the experimental T23 tank in place of the standard Sherman turret. (In reality the tank, provided by the Bovington Tank Museum in England is a M4A2E8. The difference is this variant was equipped with a diesel engine, instead of a gasoline engine, and was mainly used by foreign armies as Lend-Lease aid.)
The 76mm gun fired higher velocity rounds than the older 75mm gun. Although the gun incorporated a muzzle brake, the muzzle blast, recoil, and dust raised by firing did reduce the effective rate of fire by making it harder for the tank commander to call the shots and for the gunner to stay on target. The standard 76mm AP (Armor Piercing Shot) ammunition, while having better AP performance than the 75mm AP ammo, was still insufficient to penetrate the thick frontal armor of German Panther and Tiger tanks at ranges where the enemy tank’s guns could penetrate the Sherman’s armor.
The issuance of improved High Velocity Armor Piercing (HVAP) ammunition starting in August 1944 improved the range and penetration of the U.S. 76mm gun. The HVAP projectile contained a tungsten core surrounded by a lightweight aluminum body. Unfortunately, HVAP ammo was prioritized to Tank Destroyer units and was always in short supply in Sherman tank units. In many cases each tank might have only one or two rounds, if any. In the movie Fury’s crew fires “special” AP ammo which is likely supposed to be HVAP.
The armament of Fury is rounded out with an assortment of machine guns. The tank has the standard Model 1919 .30 air cooled machine guns with one mounted coaxially with the main gun and fired by the gunner and the second mounted in the right hull front and manned by the assistant driver/bow gunner. The gunner can use the main gun sight to fire the coax, but the bow gunner is limited to adjusting his fire by watching his tracers through the very limited field of view of his vision slit. A third M1919 MG is mounted on the turret at War Daddy’s tank commander station. While this is unusual, is it not unheard of, especially on later model tanks where the standard air cooled M2HB .50 BMG mount was moved to behind the commander’s hatch due to the addition of a second hatch for the loader. Since the .50 could now only be fired from standing on the rear deck, the extra .30 guns were mounted for the tank commander either by the crews or at the unit level. Both the Model 1919 and M2HB were designed by firearms legend John Browning and were known for their reliability and effectiveness. The 1919 fired standard .30 – ’06 ammunition from belts with a rate-of-fire of 450 to 600 RPM. The M2HB fired the hard-hitting .50 BMG cartridge from belts at a rate of 485 – 635 RPM.
In one pivotal scene the Sherman platoon faces a single Tiger I tank that fires from a concealed ambush position. The Tiger I, more properly the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E, was the most feared tank of the war by Allied tankers.
The Tiger I was a heavy tank produced from 1942 to 1944. The design was known for its especially thick armor and powerful gun. It had 100mm of frontal armor and 120mm at the mantlet. The Tiger I’s 88mm KwK 36 L/56 main could penetrate a Sherman’s thickest frontal armor at any practical range the gunner could hit. The Tiger 1 also mounted a MG 34 7.92 MG in a bow mount with a second MG 34 mounted coaxially with the main gun.
The 75mm Sherman’s could not penetrate the frontal armor of the Tiger I at any range and had to be within 100 meters to penetrate the 60mm side armor. The 76mm Sherman’s could do better, especially with HVAP ammunition, but it was still not an equal fight. I won’t spoil the exact details of the movie fight except to point out the correct use of White Phosphorous smoke rounds to screen the Tiger while the Sherman’s maneuvered and the advantage the Sherman’s faster turret traverse could play.
The movie Tiger I is Tiger 131 also from the Bovington Tank Museum. This tank was captured by British forces in 1942 and is the only operable Tiger tank out of only six surviving examples. This movies marks the first time an actual Tiger has been used in a feature film since 1946. Other films, such as Kelly’s Hero’s, or Saving Private Ryan, have used mock ups made from other tanks, typically Soviet T-34’s.