The M4A2 Sherman Rusting Away on Utah Beach
On a secluded part of Utah Beach in Normandy, France is a selection of WWII vehicles quietly rusting away in front of a war memorial. Included in these is this M4A2 Sherman tank, a type used by French forces shortly after D-Day.
The location has extreme historical significance, as on top of being situated on one of the D-Day beaches, it is also the exact starting point of the Route of the 2nd Armoured Division. This route extends all the way to Strasbourg, and is marked with bollards along the way.
Despite its importance, the location is usually quiet and has a parking area, making it an ideal place to visit if you are in the area.
Read on to learn more about this tank and where to find it yourself.
The Utah Sherman is an M4A2, the type fitted with the 6046 twin diesel engine that produced around 400 hp. This version was only produced with a welded hull, and was built by US manufacturers such as Fisher, Baldwin Locomotive Works and ALCO.
An M4A2 can be easily spotted by the sloping rear armor and cylindrical exhaust at the back. They also lacked rear engine access doors. These versions were not used by the US Army, which was committed to using petrol, so they were almost entirely sent to Europe via the Lend-Lease program. The M4A2 was also used by the US Marines.
This particular example is suspected to have be made by Federal Machine & Welder (FMW) sometime before the end of 1942, making it an early production tank.
An indicator that this is a FMW built Sherman is the layout of its five frontal glacis plates. The bow machine gun on FMW Shermans is actually manufactured as a single cast plate, as is visible here. In addition, the front antenna mount and grouser storage covers (the little lumps on either side of the engine deck) are not inset into the armor, a feature of FMW Shermans.
The Utah Sherman is an early version. It has the “direct vision” viewports in front of the drivers’ positions. These were found to be a weak point, and were removed from the Sherman design in August 1942, although many were still fitted after this point as parts were used up before transitioning.
Among other features, this tank also has 11 bolts on the upper portion of its rear armor plate. These were reduced to six in August 1942.
The turret is a little less simple. According to casting numbers on the turret roof it was produced in September 1942, so it is possible that this is its original turret.
However it has the upgraded M34A1 gun mount and mantlet, which wasn’t introduced until early 1943. It is also fitted with the later and much improved “vision” cupola, suggesting that this turret has been overhauled at some point in its life.
Despite all this history the Utah Sherman is a shadow of its former self. It is coated in thick layers of paint obscuring many details, and it is being continuously attacked by rust. This is certainly a result of its proximity to the sea.
Its exhaust has been progressively rusting away, and a number of its roadwheels have actually began disintegrating. The hull machinegun ball mount and most of the return rollers are missing too.
The tank regularly receives fresh coats of paint, each time adding another layer on top of the last. Its most recent paint job comically painted rubber surfaces, such as the track pads and tyres, black.
Its interior is in surprisingly good condition, albeit heavily corroded. It still contains its turret basket, ammunition racks and other internal fittings – it even has some white paint inside still!
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Interestingly, this Sherman’s turret pistol port has been left wide open, now completely sealed solid with rust and layers of paint.
This exact vehicle’s service history is unknown. It may have been used during the war by the French, and restored by the Musée des Blindés, Saumur in 2004.
The tank’s location is well documented, however.
It is positioned in front of the Monument of the Landing of the French 2nd Armored Division, which was erected here to mark the spot this division arrived.
The 2nd Armored Division did not participate in D-Day, instead coming ashore on August 1st, under the command of General Leclerc. From here, the division fought through France all the way to Strasbourg.
Since 2004, this exact route has been marked by white bollards, many of which you will see during your time in France. Its starts at the monument near the Sherman in Saint-Martin-de-Varreville and continues to Strasbourg.
Close by is the German WN10 bunker complex. This was attacked by tanks and naval guns during the landings, but was unable to taken on D-Day. Many bunkers still remain and can be explored.
Beside the memorial are two other vehicles; an M8 Greyhound and an M3 half-track. Sadly these are both in terrible condition and are quite literally rusting away. All doors, windows and open spaces have been welded over.
The Utah Sherman is located right against Utah Beach, near Saint-Martin-de-Varreville. It is situated next to the main road running along the beach and easily is easily accessible with plenty of parking.
- Its exact coordinates are – 49.443910, -1.209284.
The simplest way of finding the Sherman is by getting onto the D421 road, which follows nearly the entire length of Utah Beach. If coming from Quinéville, travel south down the D421 for around 6.5 miles (10 km). It will appear on your left after a left-hand bend.
The most common route is to come the from Utah Beach Landing Museum. Simply travel north along the D421 for 2.7 miles (4.5 km) and the tank and memorial will be on your right.
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Within walking distance of the tank is the beach, memorial and WN10 bunker complex. Around 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of here, down the D421, is the WN8 bunker complex, another point of interest on Utah Beach.