FRANCE HONOURING THE AMERICAN SHERMAN TANK …

    One would say that there is not much to the town of Bourg-la-Reine, and there is not.   However, almost every day tourists turn up: many Americans or British, but a fair number of Germans too. So, why?  Why do so many foreigners come to this town? The answer: a Sherman tank. A M4 […]

 

 

Sherman Tank in Bourg-la-Reine (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

One would say that there is not much to the town of Bourg-la-Reine, and there is not.   However, almost every day tourists turn up: many Americans or British, but a fair number of Germans too.

So, why?  Why do so many foreigners come to this town?

The answer: a Sherman tank. A M4 Sherman tank.

The tank stands on a concreted knoll on a crossroad (carrefour) formed by the avenues General-LeClerc and Galois in the centre of town.

But what is a Sherman tank doing on that concreted knoll in the town named Bourg-la-Reine?

It is all about WW2.

The story starts in June 1940, World War Two raging since September 1939, Britain and her dominions along with France against Hitler’s Germany, and France capitulating. France defeated, Hitler occupied northern France which included Paris, the capital, and annexing that part of France bordering Germany, while handing that part of France bordering Italy to his Italian fascist ally Benito Mussolini, leaving southern France ambiguously free under a collaborationist French government lead by Marshal Pétain.

In June 1944, the Allies (by now the USA had joined the war) landed on the beaches of Normandy to chase Hitler’s Wehrmacht from Western Europe. In France, the French Resistance which had been courageously attacking the occupying Germans, took up battle alongside the Ally soldiers. So did the civilian French.

In August that 1944, the Free French Army which had been based with their leader, General Charles de Gaulle, in London, as well as GIs, was approaching Paris, then still in German hands.   They were moving in on the capital from the south, hoping that by not going across Paris from the Normandy beaches in the north, damage to the city and French civilian casualties would be limited. A contingent of tanks – Shermans – of the 12th Regiment of Cuirassiers (RC) of the 2nd French Armoured Division thus reached Bourg-la-Reine, 9.1 kms (5.7 miles) from the capital.
Meanwhile, the people of the town, knowing that their soldiers and the GIs were approaching, had been sabotaging German tanks and firing Molotov Cocktails at German soldiers based in and around town.

Strange as such things are, the first tank to enter the town was named Bourg-la-Reine!

It was the habit to name tanks – so too today and in all armies – by their crews, and this particular Sherman had been named Bourg-la-Reine because the fiancée of one of its crew – Sergeant Chief Dubourg- was a girl from the town. (It has been recorded that the girl did not survive the war, but how she had become a casualty is not known.)

The town was liberated forthwith and the 12th Regiment of Cuirassiers – and the Sherman named Bourg-la-Reine – continued on east towards Germany.

 Three months later, on November 22 1944, the regiment, heading to the Siegfried Line, and then close to the Franco-German border outside the town of Phalsbourg (Pfalzburg in German) in the Moselle Department, a German 8.8mm shell hit the Sherman named Bourg-la-Reine on the turret, instantly killing its driver Brigadier Chief Lucian Barrau. A second shell hit the tank and then a third which sent the tank up in flames.  A Sherman had a crew of five –  the commander, the driver, a bow gunner, and a second gunner, and the gun loader – and all but the driver had survived.

The Sherman Tank ‘Bourg-la-Reine after its destruction

So, that was the end of the Sherman named Bourg-la-Reine.

However, so great had been the battle history of his particular Sherman and its crew, that the man who was the commander of the 2nd Armoured Division – General Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque – had ordered the tank repaired and in 1951, the General having died four years previously, it was placed, according to his wish, as a memorial, on the very spot outside Phalsbourg where it had been hit and knocked out of battle and out of the war which would not end until May 8 1945.

The restored Bourg-la-Reine Sherman tank outside Phalsbourg.

Meanwhile, the people of the town of Bourg-la-Reine wished to share in the honour which had been bestowed on the Sherman tank named Bourg-la-Reine, and in 1990, it would be. The Shermans still in use in some countries (see below), one named Giselle, was obtained, the name ‘Bourg-la-Reine’ painted on it, and it was placed on the concreted knoll in Bourg-la-Reine.

That the tank tourists come to see in Bourg-la-Reine is, in fact, an imposter is not important. What is important is that the town is honouring the Sherman tank which had played such an major role in the liberation of the town, of Paris, and indeed of France.

Bourg-la-Reine’s Sherman tank (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The Sherman’s history:

The Sherman tank, designed by the U.S. Army Ordnance Department in 1940 and in production in the States since 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had in 1942 supplied Britain with 12,000 of them.  The British had forthwith turned some over to their allies – the Free French and the Free Poles and Stalin’s Soviet Union – and after D-Day (June 6, 1944) it were Shermans which were deposited on the Normandy beaches and used in the liberation of France, and Western Europe, and in the defeat of Hitler’s Wehrmacht.

The Sherman was in use in the USA until 1952 and the last Sherman in use was in Paraguay this year of 2018: three formed part of the presidential escort service.

The tank had seen combat service in the Korean War, in Vietnam and in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.   The tank was also used by the Israeli Army in all the Israeli/Arab wars. The tank played a major role in North Africa in 1942 with the British Army in such battles of El Alamein and Tobruk.

The name ‘Sherman’ was given to the tank by the British in honour of the American Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman.

Bourg-la-Reine:

The town with a population of 19,906 (last census of 2006), is 9.1 kms (5.7 miles) from Paris. All France divided into administrative regions (departements) this town is in that of Hauts-de-Seine.    Geographically, it therefore falls in greater Paris – the Ile-de-France.

It is easy to reach from Paris.  

If you need to use public transport, the RER B4 train will get you there within less than half-an-hour. 

Best will be to buy a day Mobilis ticket. These are sold by Zone, and Bourg-la-Reine falls in Zone 3.   Such a ticket, valid until midnight will cost 10 Euros.

You will not get lost in the town as is but small and there are signs which will direct you to the town’s pride and joy – the Sherman tank.

 

 

 

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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