M4E3A2 Sherman Tank “Cobra King”
The M4 Sherman was the iconic American tank of World War II. It was employed in all theaters of operation where its reliability and mobility allowed it to spearhead armor attacks, provide infantry support, and function as artillery. American industry produced 53,000 Sherman tanks during the war, and the M4 chassis was used on a variety of other armored vehicles such as tank destroyers and self-propelled artillery. In 1944, the Army introduced the M4A3E2 Sherman “Jumbo” tank. Weighing 38 tons, it was fitted with a thicker frontal armor, a larger turret, and a 75 or 76mm main gun.
On 16 Dec 1944, Hitler launched an offensive to recapture the valuable port city of Antwerp. German forces were ordered to attack the Allied lines in Belgium and Luxembourg, with the aim of crossing the Meuse River and recapturing the city. The seven roads that led in and out of the Belgian town of Bastogne made it crucial to German lines of communication and their westward advance towards the river. By 21 Dec, the German XLVII Panzer Corps had encircled Bastogne.
Although surrounded and outnumbered, the Americans were able to hold the town of Bastogne for five days before Patton’s Third Army was able to arrive. 1st Lt. Charles P. Boggess, commanding officer of Company C, 37th Tank Battalion, led the attack from atop Cobra King. At 1650 on 26 December 1944, the Sherman tank Cobra King led the 4th Armored Division column that would break through the German lines surrounding the town.
This historically significant vehicle, registration No. 3083084, was a part of Task Force Baum, the ill-fated secret attempt to rescue U.S. Prisoners of War from a camp near Hammelburg, Germany. Although able to penetrate 50 miles behind German lines, 32 American Soldiers and 57 tanks, jeeps, and other vehicles were lost. Physical evidence showed that the Cobra King experienced a brief internal fire and subsequent small arms ammo explosion, which damaged the tank’s interior. It is uncertain when and why this fire occurred, but it is probable that it contributed to the tank being unceremoniously abandoned following the Hammelburg raid.
Used for spare parts at a repair depot in Lager Hammelburg, the historic tank’s whereabouts became unknown and remained so until 2004. When Army Chaplain Keith Goode became curious about the old tank on display near the back gate of the Army’s Rose Barracks at Vilseck, Germany, he began to do research. With the assistance of armor experts, the famous “First in Bastogne” tank had been found.
In 2009, the U.S. Army Center of Military History shipped Cobra King back to the United States to be restored to its former glory. Uncovered during this process was the stenciled name “Cobra King,” shipment markings, tank identification number, turret star, and engine grate star from beneath layers of paint. Unfortunately, the extent of the fire damage made interior restoration impossible. Today, you can visit the Cobra King in the National Museum’s Global War gallery.
Cobra King and crew following the siege at Bastogne. The crew included 1st Lt. Charles Boggess, Cpl. Milton Dickerman, and Pvts. James G. Murphy, Hubert S. Smith, and Harold Hafner.