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Vilseck tank confirmed as ‘Cobra King’

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 27, 2008

A World War II-era M4 Sherman tank on display at Rose Barracks in Vilseck, Germany has been confirmed to be the “Cobra King,” the first tank to reach besieged American troops defending Bastogne from the Germans’ counterattack during the Battle of the Bulge.

U.S. Army Europe officials announced the discovery Friday in a news release timed to coincide with the Dec. 26, 1944, anniversary of the Company C, 37th Tank Battalion’s famous arrival in Bastogne.

The tank was identified by matching serial and registration numbers, a project worked jointly by historians with U.S. Army Europe and the U.S. Army’s Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor in Ft. Knox, Ky.

Officially designated as an M4A3E2 Assault Tank, the Sherman “Jumbo” was built in mid-1944 at the Detroit Tank Arsenal. Only 254 of the tanks were built. Because of the short run, and because they were on a built-up hull, all 254 tanks were issued serial numbers in sequential order, according to Army officials.

When U.S. Army registration numbers were assigned to the vehicles, they too were issued in sequential order, allowing historians to confirm a direct match with the two sets of numbers, according to the Army release.

Some photographs of the antiquated tank can be found online.

In what appears to be an old black and white photo from World War II posted on the photo-sharing Web site Flickr, the tank is marked with large letters “First in Bastogne,” under which the smaller words “Cobra King” are legible.

The five men in the photo aren’t identified.

According to the Army’s release, “Cobra King” was under the command of 1st Lt. Charles P. Boggess, commander of Company C, 37th Tank Battalion.

Other crew members were Pvt. Hubert S. Smith, driver; Cpl. Milton Dickerman, gunner; Pvt. Harold Hafner, bow machine gunner; and loader Pvt. James G. Murphy.

“We have not yet determined if any of these men still survive …” Army officials said in the release.

Army historians recognize the “Cobra King” as a significant piece of World War II history for its role in the Battle of the Bugle, the powerful German counterattack in December 1944 in Belgium’s Ardennes forest. In a last-ditch effort, Hitler unsuccessfully tried to divide Allied forces in an attempt to bring about a negotiated peace in Germany’s favor.

In his 1946 narrative “Bastogne: The First Eight Days,” then-Col. S.L.A. Marshall wrote: “ …at 1650 First Lieutenant Charles P. Boggess, commanding officer of Company C, 37th Tank Battalion, drove the first vehicle from the 4th Armored Division to within the lines of the 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 101st Division, of the Bastogne forces. This was the beginning. The German encirclement was now finally broken, though some days would pass before the American lines to the south were again firm and several weeks of fighting would ensue before the siege of Bastogne was finally lifted.”

The tank is expected to go on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Army, scheduled to open in 2013 outside of Washington, D.C.


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