Okay, so I like tanks. I used to build model kits of them but was never all that good at it compared to my friends. I got more glue on my fingers than I did on the model. Sigh. I may try again. Who knows? Maybe age will have improved my skills.
So, what initially grabbed my attention about the movie Fury was a Sherman tank nicknamed “Fury.” This particular Sherman is an upgrade (M4A3E8) from the standard 75mm pop gun on the basic Sherman that was hopelessly outclassed by most of the German tanks, assault guns and anti-guns of the time. The upgraded Sherman featured a long-barreled 76mm gun with a higher velocity round, still outclassed by most German tanks, but at least an improvement.
The other attention getter is known as the Bovington (Museum in the UK) Tiger. The Brits captured one of the famous Tiger I’s in North Africa and shipped it home for study. Today it sits at the Bovington Museum and it actually runs-the only one still in existence that does so.
The producers of Fury were able to “borrow” it for some scenes although most of the action was filmed with a mock-up; the Bovington being to rare to risk any damage.
The movie features a duel between four Shermans including the upgraded Fury and the fearsome Tiger I. The Tiger I was a bit rare but where it appeared any duels were a bit of mismatch since the Tiger’s frontal armor was impossible to penetrate, something the movie illustrates quite well.
Having said all that, the bulk of the movie is not about the tanks; it’s about the crew of a Sherman tank in the closing days of WW2 when the Allied armies were racing across Germany.
The star of the movie is Brad Pitt who does what I think is a very credible job as “Wardaddy”. Pitt is an Sgt. E7 to use modern lingo and his mission is to keep his crew alive. The crew is a mixed bunch featuring a Bible quoter, a Mexican-American and an a loader who comes across as one fry shy short of a happy meal. The group has been together since the North African Campaign and despite their considerable differences these guys love each other and watch each other’s backs and in that the movie has a A Band of Brothers feel to it. The language is pure military. I recall from my own short time in the Army an amazing variety of forms and uses for the “F” word and that is the case in Fury.
The cement in the story is the new guy named Norman who is the replacement assistant driver because the last one had just been killed. Norman looks to be about eighteen and although I question the line where he says he only had eight weeks of basic training I was not surprised that the Army was cutting short training programs for the combat arms at that stage of the war. The attrition rate in the infantry was atrocious and I doubt it was better for tank crews.
Norman is totally unprepared for the horrors that lay ahead of him. One early scene is compelling. Just before Norman arrives to tell Wardaddy he is the new guy you see a bulldozer pushing mangled German bodies into a mass grave. It’s like no one notices what should be a shock unless you see it everyday, which they probably did.
Wardaddy doesn’t want Norman but he’s stuck with him. Norman’s initial reception from the rest of the crew seems cool and even cruel. Wardaddy tells Norman not to get close to anyone a veiled reference to the attrition rate and the hurt of losing a close buddy.
Shortly after Norman arrives they get another mission and Fury is the second tank in a column of Shermans traveling up a road. Norman spies an armed German kid (teen-Hitler Jugend) through the brush and does not fire the hull MG because the target is a kid. Seconds later another German kid with a Panzerfaust (early RPG) lights up the lead Sherman and Norman watches in horror as a burning crewman shoots himself in the head rather than burn to death!
The German kids are quickly dealt with by the rest of the Shermans.
I thought there was a good juxtaposition going on with the theme of the German kids. On one hand you saw German kids hung by the Nazi’s because they would not fight or deserted and on the other you saw fanatical Hitler Jugend youth quite willing to die for what obviously was at that point a lost cause.
Wardaddy is rightly furious with Norman for not shooting and Norman has to recognize what an armed Hitler Jugend with a Panzerfaust can do.
They reach the mission area and have to clean out some German infantry and anti-guns as they support a pin downed rifle company.
The Shermans supporting the rifle company quickly make short work of the German resistance. What follows is one of the more shocking scenes in the movie imo.
The American infantry capture what appears to be an older German soldier who is not SS. By that stage of the war none of the western allies were in the mood to take SS prisoners-a fact hammered home a bit later in the movie. The average combat soldier had correctly made the assessment that the SS were ideological fanatics (think ISIS) and at that stage of the war the major obstacle to ending the war and the reason for a lot of unnecessary blood shed are the SS holdouts.
What is shocking about the above scene is that the older German is not SS. He looks to be in his 40s and he is pleading for his life trying to show the GI’s pictures of his family while he begs them not to shoot him. The American infantry could care less and some are mocking the poor soul. The scene is gripping because you expect the “good guys” to just take him prisoner despite the mocking and indifference to his begging.
Wardaddy intervenes but it’s not to save the German soldier as you tend to expect. Wardaddy grabs Norman and seeks to force Norman to shoot the soldier in the back while the rest of Americans look on seemingly understanding the lesson being played out.
Norman’s sensibilities are shocked to the maximum and he fights Wardaddy the best he can. The other Americans look on in indifference with understanding because Norman could not shoot the German kid with the rifle. Wardaddy is teaching Norman to hate not for hate’s sake but to potentially save his life and the lives of Wardaddy’s precious crew.
I hated the scene and felt like Norman whose morals are shocked to the core by the execution of a helpless prisoner. Wardaddy summed it up well when he said, ideals are peaceful and history is violent.
The “lesson” has its desired effect as they occupy a German town. German soldiers run on fire from a building and Norman uses the bow MG to cut them down while other Americans tell him he should have let them burn. Hate. Pure Hate.
The scene reminded me of Rick Atkinson’s, An Army at Dawn, the first in Atkinson’s trilogy of America’s Army on the western front during WW2.
In An Army at Dawn Atkinson makes reference to the fact that America’s citizen soldiers had to learn to hate. They had to learn to view the German soldiers they faced not as human beings who were in many ways similar to the themselves but as hated obstacles in the way of ending the war. The more you kill, the quicker you get to go home saving the lives of your fellow soldiers in the process. It’s a hard lesson in Atkinson’s book and it’s hard lesson in the movie.
Wardaddy commends Norman after he machine guns the Germans on fire and you are not sure if he approved of the mercy involved or if it was just the fact Norman could do it for whatever the motive (remember the previous scene when the American on fire kills himself). It’s another example of blurred motives. From that point on Wardaddy and Norman’s relationship improves.
Those were the kind of scenes that gripped me. The scenes compared with the intensity of Saving Pvt. Ryan as they dealt with the raw emotion of war and the not so easy boundaries between right and wrong, justice and murder.
The tanks in my opinion were secondary to the story of men who were sick of war and who had to make split second decisions that were not always “clean”.
My only real complaint about the movie was the ending where a disabled Fury and her crew take on considerable odds against the hated SS. Frankly, the Germans look stupid and whatever else you might say about German soldiers they were not stupid. But honestly, it’s a minor complaint and otherwise it’s a good movie ranking up there with Band of Brothers and Saving Pvt. Ryan. Just don’t be shocked by the language because that is how soldiers talk and don’t be shocked by the carnage because that’s what soldiers see.