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Oddballs: The Shermans of ‘Kelly’s Heroes’

United States of America (1970)
Semi-Fictional Prop Tank

In June of 1970, the hybrid war/heist-film comedy-drama Kelly’s Heroes was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). It was a collaboration between American and Yugoslavian production companies. Most of the film was shot on location in Yugoslavia and Croatia (Croatia being a republic within Yugoslavia in the 1970s). The film, set in September 1944, saw a motley band of American GIs and Tankers go behind enemy lines to steal US$16 million worth of Nazi gold hidden in a bank in a small French town. The film featured an all-star cast of Clint Eastwood as the titular ‘Private Kelly’, Telly Savalas as Sergeant ‘Big Joe’, Donald Sutherland as ‘Oddball’ the Tank Commander, and Don Rickles as Supply Sergeant ‘Crapgame’, among many other well-known actors.

Unknown to most is that the relatively far-fetched plot of this film was based on a true story from the Second World War, known as the ‘Greatest Robbery on Record’. It featured in multiple editions of the Guinness Book of World Records as a regular feature between 1956 and 2000. The account recalled that “The greatest robbery on record was that of the German National Gold Reserves in Bavaria by a combination of U.S. military personnel and German civilians in 1945“. This is confirmed by an official letter dated 12/4/68 from Elliott Morgan, MGM’s Head of Research, to the Guinness Book of World Records requesting information on this topic.

The film also featured an interesting cast of vehicles. Many M4 Shermans were shown used in the film by the US Army, but these were not just standard M4s. The tanks used were post-war up-gunned M4A3E4s – formerly of the ‘Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija’ (Yugoslav People’s Army). The tanks of Oddball’s platoon – and Oddball’s tank in particular – featured several ‘upgrades’ that, while unique, probably would not be too practical to real-life combat operations.

Kelly’s Heroes released in June 1970 and featured the all-star cast of Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland and Don Rickles, among many other well-known actors of the day. Photo: MGM

“A Sherman Can Give You a Very Nice…Edge”

The M4 series of tanks is without question one of the most recognized to come out of the Second World War. Starting life in 1941 as the T6, it was later serialized as the M4. The British named it ‘Sherman’ after William T. Sherman, General of the Union Army in the American Civil War. The tank officially entered service in 1942 and saw its first action at the Second Battle of El Alamein that October with the British 8th Army.

The Shermans of Kelly’s Heroes were a rather special model, one of the less well-known and less common to appear. The M4A3E4 was a post-war development of the M4A3. It took the standard model of M4A3 – welded hull, vertical volute suspension (VVSS), early turret, Ford GAA V8 engine – and up-gunned them with the addition of the 76 mm Tank Gun M1. Other additions to the older turret – such as the ‘All-Round Vision Cupola’ and cut-in loader’s hatch – were made to the Sherman between 1943 and 1944. Despite their use as such in the film, the E4s never served the US Military. Having previously trialed this configuration prior to the adoption of the T23 turret. However, it was found to be much too cramped for US military tastes. Instead, they were produced for the post-war ‘Military Aid Program’. The ‘MAP’ benefited war-ravaged countries by providing them the means to rebuild their military and defenses. One of these countries was Yugoslavia. Between 1948 and 1955, Yugoslavia would receive 599 M4A3E4s. Other countries that received M4A3E4s included Belgium, Denmark, and Portugal.

Yugoslavian M4A3E4 in the late-1960s. Although an uncommon variant, the length of the added 76 mm Gun M1 makes these Sherman variants rather unmistakable. Photo: Sase Family via Srpski Oklop

The E4s would serve Yugoslavia well, equipping armored units as a supplement to an existing quantity of Soviet-origin T-34-85s. Yugoslavian armor officers were quite happy with the Shermans, although they were of the opinion that the American offering lagged behind the T-34 somewhat when it came to combat effectiveness. However, the Yugoslavians did appreciate the higher levels of user comfort of the M4, such as padded seating, powered turret traverse, gun stabilization, and better ventilation. The Yugoslavian Army would begin to phase out the E4s from 1966. They would not be immediately sent to the scrap yard, but rather gradually phased out over the following years, with some being used for up-gunning experiments and others effectively mothballed for spare parts. This meant there were plenty of operational Shermans available for the Kelly’s Heroes production team to acquire.

In Kelly’s Heroes, the tanks are represented as being standard Sherman 76s. In September 1944, however, any 76 mm gun-armed Sherman would likely have been the M4A1 (76)W. This tank was a combination of the M4A1 cast-hull Sherman with the new T23 turret and 76 mm Tank Gun M1. This version of the M4 was accepted for service in January 1944 but did not see service until Operation Cobra in that July. The addition of the 76 mm M1 gun gave the Sherman a much-needed boost to its tank-killing capability.

US M4A1 (76) W in France, 1944. The 76mm Tank Gun M1 added a much-needed punch to America’s front-line tank. Photo: US National Archives

“Nobody Said Nothing About Locking Horns with no Tigers…”

In early September 1944, units of the American 35th Infantry Division were nearing the French town of Nancy. During an incursion behind enemy lines, Private Kelly (Clint Eastwood), from a mechanized recon platoon within the 35th, manages to capture one Colonel Dankhopf (David Hurst), of Wehrmacht Intelligence. After taking the Officer back to his unit’s position in a farm complex, Kelly begins his interrogation. Rifling through the Officer’s file case, Kelly comes across a mysterious gray metal bar. Dankhopf insists it is lead and that it was in the case so that – should there be the risk of capture – it would sink if thrown into a body of water. Unconvinced, Kelly scrapes at the bar, revealing a disguised bar of Nazi gold. Kelly steps up his interrogation by sharing a bottle of brandy with the Officer in extremely generous measures. After killing the bottle, the half-unconscious Officer reveals that there are 14,000 more gold bars – totaling some US$16 million – held in a bank in the small French town of Clermont (Not based on the real one west of Lyon), 30 miles (50 km) behind enemy lines. The nearby German forces, led by a squad of Tiger tanks, soon advance on the town. Kelly’s platoon pulls out in a hurry, and the German Colonel gets killed in the crossfire.

Multiple Shermans (M4A3E4s) pass in convoy as Kelly (Eastwood) makes his way to recruit Supply Sergeant ‘Crapgame’ – his first encounter with Tank Commander ‘Oddball’. Photo: MGM

Kelly becomes set on stealing the gold in an unsanctioned raid behind enemy lines – without his superiors finding out. The trick would be convincing the rest of his unit to join him. At a forward operating base, Kelly recruits Supply Sergeant ‘Crapgame’ (Don Rickles) to obtain the supplies and weapons needed for the heist. After eavesdropping on the plan, a spaced-out 6th Armored Division tank commander named ‘Oddball’ (Donald Sutherland) suggests that he could assist in the operation with his small, three-tank platoon.

Oddball’s platoon is made of three rough-looking Shermans with equally rough-looking crews. This is purposely done, so the troop appears to be out of action. When Kelly first meets them, they are lounging about in the sun, drinking wine with ‘French peasant girls’ and roasting meat on a spit. Oddball explains:

“We see our role as essentially defensive, in nature. While our armies are advancing so fast and everyone’s knocking themselves out to be heroes, we are holding ourselves in reserve in case the Krauts mount a counteroffensive which threatens Paris… or maybe even New York. Then we can move in and stop them. But for 1.6 million dollars, we could become heroes for three days…”

Oddball then introduces Kelly to his tanks, showing the unique modifications he has had made to them. These include the addition of loudspeakers, upgraded engines, and the use of 76 mm ‘paint’ shells. Maybe against better judgment, Kelly recruits the Tankers. With the promise of armored support, it becomes a lot easier to convince his unit to join him.

Oddball (right) introduces Kelly to his troop of 3 Sherman Tanks, held ‘in case of defense’. Photo: MGM

With Oddball’s tankers recruited, Kelly decides to split his forces, advancing separately to a position near Clermont to link up. Kelly’s unit would proceed more discreetly cross country with Jeeps and Half-Tracks. Despite being a noisy column of three tanks, Oddball opts for a route that would avoid most German contact. This course led Oddball’s platoon – made up of himself, ‘Moe’ commanding one tank, and ‘Whiskey’ commanding the other – through a rail tunnel, at the mouth of which was a German-operated railway siding full of defending troops.

With no choice but to proceed, Oddball formulates a plan of attack and leads his tanks in a charge out of the tunnel mouth. His platoon proceeded to lay waste to the entire complex. All while blasting out ‘All For the Love of Sunshine’ by Hank Williams Jr. from the loudspeaker attached to the turret (highly anachronistic, as this track was released the same year as the film; 1970). After leveling the installation, killing the 100+ strong garrison, and blasting the tunnel closed behind them, Oddball moves his men out to the tune of ‘Working on the Railroad’ (much more appropriate for the era).

Oddball and his platoon level the German-operated rail yard. Photo: MGM

Pressing on from the railyard, Oddball approaches a bridge over a river they need to cross, only for it to be blown by Allied air support as they arrive. Oddball, parked up at a French bar, contacts a US engineering unit to build a bridge for the crossing, enticed by the offer of Nazi gold.

For Kelly, things start taking a turn for the worse. The unit lost its light vehicles to another ill-timed Allied air strike, leaving the men to proceed on foot. They accidentally stumble into a minefield and are forced to engage a small Wehrmacht Convoy – losing several men. Demoralized, Kelly’s unit takes refuge in a shack on the road to Clermont and waits for Oddball to link up with them. Oddball soon arrives with his troop and the engineer units in tow, proudly standing atop his tank with the tune of ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic/Blood on the Risers’ echoing from his speaker (‘Blood on the Risers’ famously being the song of US paratroopers during the war).

Oddball proudly stands atop his iron steed as he approaches the link up with Kelly with Engineer units in tow – the echo of the ‘Battle Hymn’ surrounding them. Photo: MGM

The now combined force battles their way across the river to Clermont. Radio chatter intercepted by Allied radio attracts the attention of Major General Colt, who misinterprets this as an unknown US Army unit breaking through an otherwise dead-locked front line. Oddball loses his two accompanying Shermans in the battle over the river. Oddball makes it across, but one tank is left burning on the opposite bank, with another drowned in the river (the fate of the crews are unknown, but are presumed dead as they are not seen again). Kelly and his men eventually make it across, leaving the engineers to finish building a pontoon bridge. Under artillery barrage, they press on to Clermont.

On a hilltop overlooking the town, Kelly, his Sergeant ‘Big Joe’ (Telly Savalas), and Oddball attempt to formulate a plan. Two men from the unit have already snuck into a bell tower in town. With an over-watch of the bank – they feed intel to Kelly. Clermont is defended by three Tiger I tanks (props built on T-34-85s) of the 1st SS Panzer Division and accompanying infantry support. The Tigers – sat in the town square in front of the bank – start-up, according to Oddball, this is ‘standard practice’ as they need to turn their engines over every so often. Using this noise as cover, a plan is formulated to divide forces. ‘Big Joe’ would lead his men on foot, while Oddball would be a distraction for the Tigers, using the Tiger’s large size against them in a small town. This did not please Oddball, objecting that:

“The only way I got to keep them Tigers busy is to let them shoot holes in me!” and, addressing Supply Sergeant ‘Crapgame’, “To a New Yorker like you, a hero is some type of weird sandwich! Not some nut who takes on three Tigers!”

Top, Oddball, and Kelly make their way into Clermont. Bottom, one of the Tigers of the 1st SS Pz.Div. in the town square Photos: MGM

With the small group of GIs taking care of the infantry, Kelly hitches a ride with Oddball so he can guide them on foot. The tank navigates its way into the shell of a ruined building, with the Sherman’s main gun effectively stuck through a window. Oddball had previously said that:

“…A Tiger has only one weak point – that’s its ass. Ya gotta hit it point blank, and ya gotta hit from behind…”

This is a bit of an exaggeration, the side and rear of Tiger I – turret and hull – were 80 mm (2.4 in.) thick at maximum. The 76mm M1 was more than capable of defeating this. Lined up on the rear end of one of the Tigers in the town square, the Sherman fires and the Tiger bursts into flames. Escaping crew are quickly mopped up by ‘Big Joe’s’ men. Alerted, one Tiger pivots around as Oddball withdraws. The Tiger then crashes through the same wall and fires just as Oddball moves out, missing him. A game of cat and mouse ensues, with the Tiger having to navigate through increasingly tight streets. Oddball manages to outflank the Tiger, coming up behind, he orders the gunner to fire, only for an explosion of paint to cover the engine deck of the Tiger. Attempting to respond, the Tiger tries rotating its turret around, only for the gun barrel to be obstructed on both sides. With the ammunition issue sorted, Oddball orders another shot at the Tiger, which scores a hit and renders the tank destroyed. Kelly machine guns the escaping Tiger crew with the Browning atop Oddball’s tank.

Top, wrong shell. One of Oddball’s special paint shells impacts the back of the Tiger instead of an armor-piercing shot. Bottom, the TIger’s gun is obstructed. Photos: MGM

Two Tigers down and one to go. However, all is not well. ‘Big Joe’s’ men have dealt with the German infantry but are wounded themselves. Secondly, Oddball’s tank has broken down. His driver tries to fix it to no avail. Oddball, Kelly, and Big Joe come up with a peaceful solution – make a deal with the German tank crew. The three men advance on the tank slowly, the Commander (Karl-Otto Alberty) eventually emerging and hopping down to meet them. Big Joe offers the Commander a cigarette which he turns down as the Tiger has a fuel leak and there is fuel everywhere. The Americans talk it out with the man and tell him what’s in the bank and offer a deal of equal split of the gold. The German accepts and uses his tank to blow the Bank’s doors off.

A large pile of Gold is sat waiting in the Bank’s foyer. The German Tankers and the American GIs divide the spoils, each gold share amounting to around US$875,000 (at the set time, more than US$15.1 million today). Kelly’s men load the gold into a truck. In the meantime, Oddball had ironed out his own deal, trading some gold to the German Tank Commander, effectively buying the leaky Tiger from him, much to his engineer’s distaste claiming “It’s a piece of junk!”. Everyone goes their separate ways, leaving the town just before the still-oblivious General Colt finally arrives to a crowd of French townfolk celebrating their apparent liberation. Kelly and his merry band of thieves, in the meantime, are driving off into the sunset with their prize….

Top, Kelly and his Gold. Bottom, Oddball, and his Tiger prize. Photos: MGM

Oddball’s M4s in Detail

Armament

The main armament is portrayed as a ‘normal 76 mm’, with the tanks used filling the part of the M4A1 (76). The film plays on the old trope that Shermans were all but useless. As Oddball says:

“…all the tanks we come up against are bigger and better than ours, so that all we can hope to do is, like, scare them away. This gun is a normal 76mm, but we add this piece of pipe onto it and the krauts think, like, maybe it’s a 90mm…”

Despite Oddball’s pessimism, the 76 mm M1 gun was quite effective. Firing the standard M62 Armor-Piercing, Capped (APC) round, the 76 mm gun could punch through 109 mm (4.3 in.) of armor at 0° obliquity up to 1,000 meters (3,300 ft.), with a muzzle velocity of 792 m/s (2,600 ft/s). While this still would have struggled against a head-on battle with Tigers or Panthers, it was more than powerful enough to kill later-model Panzer IVs and similar vehicles. It was not until later in the war, with the development of High-Velocity Armor-Piercing (HVAP) rounds, that the 76 mm could penetrate a Tiger head-on. The gun also fired an effective High-Explosive (HE) shell.

As to the ‘pipe’, disguising the length of one’s gun was not an unusual tactic during the war, with both US and British armored units undertaking this subterfuge. It was more common to disguise a gun to make it look shorter, rather than make it look bigger. Making it look bigger would make a tank look more dangerous, making it more of a priority target. The British found this out with their 17-pounder-armed Sherman Firefly. It was soon becoming apparent that the Germans easily distinguished this new, more deadly Sherman thanks to its longer gun. Crews would paint white wavy lines halfway down the length of the gun to break up the outline. This was often accompanied by a fake muzzle break to give the impression that it was a standard M4 75. Later in the war, some US units did ‘faux up-gun’ their tanks. A notable example are the M24 Chaffee light tanks of the 18th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 740th Tank Battalion, where crews added pipe to the muzzles of their short 75 mm guns.

Oddball discusses the terms of the deal with Kelly and shows him the tank’s specialized equipment while his engineer ‘Moriarty’ (Gavin MacLeod) works on the engine. Note the stacked up (presumably 76 mm) shells and length of pipe. Photo: MGM

Again perhaps as a result of the ‘useless Sherman trope’, Oddball is equipped with his own ‘paint shells’. As he explains:

“We have our own ammunition, it’s filled with paint. When we fire it, it makes pretty pictures. Scares the hell out of people!”

Such a thing does not and did not exist. Would they have been practical? Not in the slightest. There is an argument that it could be used to obscure vision on enemy vehicles, but this simply would not have worked. For one, a 76 mm shell would probably carry little more than a pint of paint. Even if a hit was scored, the paint would likely vapourize to a mist rather than coat a periscope or vision block. For obscuration, many tanks carried White-Phosphorus (WP, also known as ‘Willie-Pete’) shells. On impact, these shells created a vast plume of thick smoke. This shell also had the bonus of being hazardous to enemy troops carrying burning particles of Phosphorus.

For secondary armament, the Shermans of the film carry the standard bow and coaxial .30 Cal. (7.62 mm) Browning M1919s and also the roof-mounted .50 Cal. (12.7 mm) Browning M2s. However, these do not appear to be a standard M2, but rather the M3 variant, at least on Oddball’s tank. The M3s were operationally the same as the more well-known M2s, but had a perforated heat shield that extended the full length of the barrel. Quite why these are equipped on the Shermans is unknown. It is unclear if the tanks were equipped with them when they were originally shipped to Yugoslavia, or whether they were acquired for the film.

A good view of what appears to be an M3 Browning .50 Cal. (12.7 mm) mounted to the top of Oddball’s tank. Photo: MGM

Loudspeaker

Another odd addition to the M4s – Oddball’s at least – was that of a large loudspeaker bolted to the side of the turret. As Oddball explains:

“…We got a loudspeaker here, and when we go into battle we play music very loud. It kind of calms us down…”

This is a pure fallacy in the context of the film. Quite how a record player was expected to operate inside the shaking interior of a tank during battle can’t be said. Also, Shermans – and tanks in general – are loud things so the music would be muffled anyway. The effectiveness of a single 1940s loudspeaker is highly questionable. However, this is not purely fictional. It is a rare feature in reality, but a small number of vehicles throughout history have been equipped with such devices.

Examples of such additions in reality can be found with the little known ‘Sonic Half-Tracks’ of the US Army, and ‘Amplifier Vans’ of the British Army. Such vehicles have a complicated history, but to summarize, they were used in what would today be called ‘Psychological Operations’ or ‘PsyOps’. These specialist vehicles – which were made by simply placing speakers and broadcasting systems on trucks, halftracks and even tanks – were used to literally talk the enemy into surrender, amongst other roles. A post war example is the Churchill AVRE – FV3903. It had rear-facing loudspeakers attached to the turret. These were added to communicate with any following infantry. It is not clear why these were added exactly, especially as the Churchill VII had an infantry telephone (‘grunt phone’ in the US) fitted to the back of the tank as standard. It may be that this was used to communicate with a whole infantry squad at once, instead of a single man with the telephone. There are also the slightly

Oddball’s tank proceeds down the narrow alleyways of Clermont. Note the large speaker on the side of the turret. Photo: MGM

Engine

It is not made clear exactly what engine the Sherman tanks of Kelly’s Heroes have. However, the matter does arise. When Oddball introduces Kelly to his troop, he explains:

“This engine has been modified by our mechanical genius here, Moriarty. These tanks are faster than any other tanks in the European Theater of Operations – forwards or backwards. See, man, we like to feel that we can get out of trouble quicker than we got into it…”

While automotive field repairs are often necessary for any tank, to say that a crew member could drastically increase the vehicle’s speed is quite absurd. The average top speed for the Sherman was a hard-pressed 15 – 30 mph (24 – 48 km/h) – depending on the model of the M4 and the engine used, as well as the terrain.

This brings up another issue. When formulating their plan to attack Clermont, Oddball is concerned that the German garrison will “hear their Detroit motors coming”. This is false as the M4A3 used a Ford Engine. The actual engine of the M4A3 vehicles used in the film was the Ford GAA V8 gasoline engine that produced 450 hp. Shermans did have several engines throughout their service, from the original radial of the M4/M4A1, or the infamous ‘Multibank’ of the M4A4. The M4A2, however, did use twin Detroit Diesel engines, although this model was not used by the US Army in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO), the only American use was that of the US Marines fighting the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre. In the ETO, British forces had the largest use of the A2. Under lend-lease, the Soviets also received a small number of A2s, the diesel engines being better suited to colder climates. As to the fastest-tracked vehicle in the ETO, that title goes to the M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer, which saw its first action in the spring of 1944.

Stowage

Oddball’s tank – and those of his platoon – is positively festooned with stowage. All sorts of items seem to be carried on the tank. From the usual jerricans, packs, and bedding rolls, to more eclectic items such as a watering can, a milk churn, and an oil lamp. While these latter items were probably chosen by the production team to match Oddball’s eccentricities, it is not completely wrong to say that tankers built up collections of items that they would then carry on their tanks. Perhaps not to the level as seen in the film, however. This ‘collecting’ only increased as the war went on. It was not uncommon to see Allied tanks covered in fuel cans, crates of rations, tins of small arms ammunition, bedding rolls, tarps, logs, sandbags, track links, etc, as well as other items that they found on their ‘travels’.

Left, Oddball’s tank in the film. Note the bright blue watering can. Right, a heavily stowed M4A3 at the Battle of Cologne. Photos: MGM/Pintrest

Prop Tigers

The prop Tigers used in the film have an interesting history themselves, as this excerpt from another Tank Encyclopedia article by Marko Pentelic describes:

Although perhaps less well known in the world today, during the 1960s, Yugoslav cinema entered its golden age. Thanks to the participation in several different foreign film productions, a series of well-known movies were filmed in Yugoslavia or had Yugoslav actors in them. For example, Winnetou and the Crossbreed, a 1966 Western was filmed in Yugoslavia. War-related movies were also filmed, probably the best known being Kelly’s Heroes. The three Tiger tanks used in the Hollywood picture were the same ones used during the filming of ‘Bitka na Neretvi’ (‘Battle of Neretva’), based on the actions of Yugoslav Partisans. This film was released a year before Kelly’s Heroes, in 1969. Of course, given that this was a cooperation between the American and Yugoslavian film industries, the visual effects were much improved, and these are best seen on the tank themselves. The quality of the detail added to the tanks is extraordinary and resembles a real Tiger quite well. In the movie itself, the overall combat action is more realistic, to some extent. The downside is that they still portrayed some myths, such as that the Tiger was an unstoppable tank.

One of the prop ‘Tigers’ seen in ‘Kelly’s Heroes’. Photo: MGM

The fate of the mock-ups is generally unknown, but they were probably given back to the army and converted back into regular tanks. These may have then been scrapped or they may have even seen service in the Yugoslav wars that followed. A similar – albeit objectively worse – ‘dressed up’ T-34 would later be seen in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1999).

Conclusion

Kelly’s Heroes remains something of a cult classic, and in the grand scheme of things, its inaccuracies are not that great, especially compared to films of a similar ilk. It at least shows some effort from the production team to keep things as authentic as possible. It is clear that they did their research in that respect. In 1970, the default for ‘German tank’ was ‘paint a cross on the side and call it good’. There are many examples of this, the most egregious of these might be the ‘King Tigers’ of the 1965 film ‘Battle of the Bulge’ which were simply Spanish Army M47 Patton IIs painted gray with a Balkenkreuz applied to the sides. Compared to this, the prop Tigers of Kelly’s Heroes constitute and impressive effort from the production team, especially for 1970.

The same type of Sherman in the movie Battle for Neretva, where they were used to portray German tanks. They have none of the external additions from Kelly’s Heroes, but does sport a large Balkenkreuz on the side. Photo: IMBD

This film was not the first to feature Yugoslavian E4s, having already appeared in the movie Battle for Neretva, together with the aforementioned prop Tigers. However, in that movie, they were used to portray Nazi tanks, with a large Balkenkreuz painted on the side and none of the external additions used in Kelly’s Heroes.

What happened to the M4A3E4s post-filming of Kelly’s Heroes is unfortunately unknown. By the time of the Yugoslav Wars, most were scrapped due to a lack of parts for their maintenance. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Shermans participated in any of the conflicts in Slovenia, Croatia, or Bosnia and Herzegovina. They did find some use as decoys for NATO aviation during the 1999 Kosovo War. After the Kumanovo agreement and subsequent demilitarization negotiations, it is highly likely that they were all demilitarized and turned into monuments, range targets, or scrapped. At least one M4A3E4 used in the film survives today in the private collection of military vehicle dealer Marcus Glenn, based in East England.

Surviving M4A3E4 in Yugoslavia at the entrance to the town of Gornji Milanovac, Serbia. Photo: Vladan Savic via Srpski Oplop

Oddball’s Sherman, a dressed-up Yugoslavian Army M4A3E4 as it appeared in the 1970 film, ‘Kelly’s Heroes’. Illustration produced by Ardhya ‘Vesp’ Anargha.

Sources

Kelly’s Heroes, (1970), Directed by Brian G. Hutton, Written by Troy Kennedy Martin, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
R.P. Hunicutt, Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank, Presidio Press, 1978.
Wheels & Tracks No. 39, pages 10-11; ‘MVs in Service: Yugoslavia’, April 1992
Patrick Stansell, Son of Sherman, Vol. 1, The Ampersand Group, 2013
Pierre-Olivier Buan, Joe DeMarco and Leife Hulbert, Sherman Minutia
www.srpskioklop.paluba.info
dimitrijeostojic.com
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By Mark Nash

X: @mr_m_nash.
120 articles & counting...

41 replies on “Oddballs: The Shermans of ‘Kelly’s Heroes’”

He was fantastic in that movie. I loved every scene in the movie “ It’s a mother beautiful bridge “

In the scene where the Tiger blows the bank doors because there was no other entrance , why are there 3 or 4 soldiers coming in from a side room at the same time the others enter through the blown main doors?

This is very helpful and ties into an upcoming article, thank you very much.

– Author | TE Staff

I think a bigger question for “Kelly’s Heroes” is what they were using as a sound source for their music? The most commonly available format would have been a phonograph record, but can you imagine a phonograph working inside a tank that’s moving and FIRING?

Magnetic steel wire recorderrs were also available, but were relatively rare, and where did Oddball get his recorded music from? Also how durable would a magnetic wire playback system be in a tank?

Magnetic tape technology didn’t become widespread until after 1945, ironically because it was a pre-war German monopoly.

The greatest comedy film ever. To bad they can’t and will not ever make a movie like that. RIP Oddball.

While a great deal of time is spent describing the “easy eight” HVSS suspension (E8), which also used a wider track, it is clear from the photos that Oddball’s Shermans were equipped with the original VVSS.

Ok not actually accurate but I do love this movie,it brings a smile to this old 1st Armour division soldier,
RIP Oddball

Very interesting article about a great film. Knew a lot about the mocked up Tigers already but oddly had seen very little about the Shermans that were used. Thanks for the detailed research.
RIP Donald, your positive waves will be much missed.

I was convinced these were real TIGER 1 tanks. as a kid and a young teen model building was a big hobby for me and my older brother. I built a beautiful TIGER 1 and a TIGER 2 (KING TIGER) among many others. The “TIGERS” in the movie looked exactly like my models on which I included the zimmerant on the outside of the tank to protect against magnetic bombs.
As for the SHERMANS, most people don’t understand that every tank the U.S made had to be smaller and lighter than the U.S. may have wanted as every U.S. tank had to be able to fit onto the thousands of transport ships to cross the Atlantic. So the U.S. might have been out gunned by the German tanks but when mass produced, which they were, could outnumber the German tanks in some cases. GERMAN tanks could basically roll off the assembly line and drive directly into battle.

As a scout/Sheridan M551A1 AR/AAV light tank crewman in the 🇺🇸11th Armored Cavalry Regiment while on break from annual tank gunnery qualifying at Grafenwhor, West Germany 🇩🇪 1973-75, me and my fellow troopers watched “Kelly’s Heroes” in the post theater. The morale effect instantly positive cheers and quiet motivation (better than Army training flims) as it inspired the outrageous and pirate 🏴‍☠️ in our think-out-side-the-box soldier solutions. Results: 1. I made Sergeant E-5 by bribing maintenance troopers w-beer to work on our 3rd Platoon’s 5-tanks to disable the engine speed control which allowed us to increase from a governed 45MPH to 55MPH making us harder to be targeted even w/turret powered traverse. 2. Once while our tank & APC road-march column broke-down while on patrol outside a German village near the “Iron Curtain” Border between West/East Germany, an Maintenance Troop 12-cylinder gasoline-fueled M88 tracked Armored Recovery Vehicle arrived w/casemate roof-mounted loudspeakers 📢 on the top blaring 1970’s R&R music 🎶 and yes, we could hear👂it over their engine !!! 3. Of Southern heritage, I initially called our vehicle, “The Haunted Tank” complete with a small, “Confederate Battle Flag” decal (scratched off by 2-disapproving black-troopers). Then I had mechanic paint the name “Foxy Lady” on our 152mm main-gun cannon barrel; we were F34 (4th tank, 3rd Platoon, FOX 🦊 {we never said ‘F-Troop’} TROOP, 2ND SQUADRON, 11ACR. 4. Besides the main-gun, troublesome NATO 7.62mm coax machine-gun, and beloved outside cupola-mounted M2HB .50 Caliber MG, Sheridans have 8-fragmentation or smoke grenade launchers 4-each on either-side of the cannon. As no grenades were issued to us, I realized that each launcher would hold two-12oz cans of beer, giving us a field load of 16-beers for “Foxy Lady’s” 4-man crew 😜! We concealed the beer by covering the launchers with the black disposable 6″-diameter rubber condom-like cannon-ammunition base protectors, and only had it confiscated once by a noisy 1st Lieutenant (not my leader). 5. Once in 1975, while on Border Patrol, our tank column stopped in a tiny German town with 2-sharp road-bends. My tank was very close to a Gastehaus (bar/restaurant), and the owner wanted to sell us gute German beer, whereupon his son climbed the side of my tank so I could pay in D-Marks, the instructing us to turn our tank turret toward his building, and elevating our cannon to his second-floor window, his daughter slid 4-bottles of beer down our cannon barrel for our loader to catch !!! “Best time of my life !” I later went to OCS and retired as a MAJOR in 1999.

Great article, Steve – I enjoyed reading it. I suppose I saw this movie for the first time over 50 years ago, and it’s one of those films I will watch every time I get the chance. Apart from the counter culture storyline and the parade of great American actors (RIP, Mr. Sutherland) I was immediately taken with the producers’ desire to provide a more realistic portrayal of WWII in terms of both equipment and materiel and small unit combat. Apparently I wasn’t alone!

Woof woof! R. I. P. Mr. Sutherland. I have a vinyl poster on the wall behind my bed of Oddball, with the quote “Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves?” Words to live by, from one of the greatest actors and greatest characters of all time.

My kind of tankers !!! SGT “Mack”, TC (commander) of M551A1 AR/AAV Sheridan light tank F34, 2nd Squadron “Eaglehorse”, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment “Blackhorse” 1972-75.

Ford engines were obviously made in Detroit, and I assumed Oddball was referring to that. Simply that the Germans will know these are not German tanks from the sound of their engines, and be ready for a fight.

Great background story of one of my favorite films. I too noticed the liberties taken, such as the recorded tank music, but little things don’t take away from my enjoyment of it. You did good, Mr. Sutherland.

I have loved this movie since it came out!
This article has been very informative on the Shermans that were used. However, I am not sure there was an adequate explanation what base vehicle was used to create the “prop” Tigers? I am quite sure it would have been pure magic to do this with modified Shermans. I would welcome more information on them.

A urban legend is that one of the Sherman’s in the movies is located between Museum of contemporary art and Museum of Vojvodina in Novi Sad. The museum says it is, and it’s interesting to see.

Probably cool for tenk geeks to visit it and visit military museum of Belgrade.

Kelly’s Heroes is one great ride of a film! And at least the production team sought out real Shermans, if a later variant; The “Tigers” were convincing stand-ins for the real (and exceedingly rare!) ones. Battle of the Bulge was a travesty compared to this movie.

absolutely brilliant film
the one liners that the actors came out with so funny.
a war film, a bank robbery, with comedy, great piece of production.
RIP oddball in your sherman in the sky.

It’s very strange, considering all the war movies and westerns I saw growing up, that this was the first movie where the deaths of characters in the movie stuck with me. Nearly the entire Dirty Dozen die, most of the Magnificent Seven, and on and on, but the nameless soldiers in Kelly’s Heroes were the first to really stick in my mind as being dead.

Positive waves to Oddball and company.

Great article. I’m surprised when mentioning 1970s films using incorrect tanks that you skipped “Patton”, which also slapped German insignia on M-47s and said “Good enough!” At a minimum they could have tried to slap on some side skirts. At least the M-41s used by the American forces in that movie could pass for M-24s if you squinted. And Thirdbase, I agree with you. The three troops getting killed in the minefield was jarring. It reminded you that although this movie was a comedy, it was still war.

Oh we are well aware of ‘Patton’, we thought it best to only include one example as there are too many to mention!

– Author | TE Staff

One of my favorite animes, “Girls und Panzer,” absolutely loves “Kelly’s Heroes.” One character, when caught, declares her name is “Sgt. Oddball.” One team watches the Tiger Caught in a Narrow Allley scene, and it’s recreated later in the series.

absolutely brilliant film great actors great storyline and the little quips that came out were superb.
oddball, Kelly, big Joe, crapgame, and the rest of the motley crew were fantastic. RIP ODDBALL

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