Tanks have been used throughout American military history to turn the tide in some of the toughest battles in the most austere terrain. While they are a powerful and necessary machine, they are essentially just a tool that is brought to life by the crew members who operate them.
Tank crews spend a lot of time within their mobile war machine, so it’s easy to understand why tankers would want to personalize their vehicle. Tankers have been painting words and works of art on the exterior to help identify their tanks since World War II, but the art has served several different purposes.
“Cobra King” and her crew helped liberate France and played a key role during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. According to the U.S Army, the Cobra King crew belonged to C company, 37th Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division. On Dec. 25, 1944, the Sherman tank crew led the way for the rest of the 37th Tank Battalion into Bastogne, France, bulldozing their way through Nazi defenses. The Cobra King crew helped free the 101st Airborne soldiers that were surrounded in Bastogne. The message of “First in Bastogne” served an ominous warning to the Nazi soldiers they later came into contact with.
The M46 Patton tank was built to replace the M26 Pershing tank as well as the Sherman tanks from World War II. It’s newly designed engine provided faster speed and better handling but with the downside of using 3 gallons of gasoline to travel 1 mile. Tankers from the 24th Infantry Division, 6th Tank Battalion painted tiger face designs on their tanks to facilitate psychological warfare against their superstitious Chinese enemies during the Korean War.
The M48 Patton Tank was equipped with a 90mm cannon, M73 coax, and the M2 HB .50-caliber machine gun. The tank shown earned the nickname “Grim Reaper.” Dave Decker was one of the crew members that manned the Grim Reaper tank and was attached to 3rd Platoon, B Company, 2/34 Armor. He said in Armor, Volume 107, Issue 3, that his tank “was probably the most heavily gunned tank in Vietnam.” Decker went on to describe how they nefariously acquired additional machine guns and personal weapons, including three more .50-caliber machine guns. The kicker for this arrangement was that they mounted a 7.62mm minigun from a Cobra attack helicopter, which was later taken away by a high-ranking officer.
Next came the M1A1 Abrams tank and later the M1A2. The Abrams tank has been used since the Persian Gulf War. Though the tank art on these are straightforward, the text packs a punch.
The tank above, nicknamed “Pale Horse,” was a part of the Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, while on deployment with the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility.
This photo shows an M1A1 Abrams tank nicknamed “New Testament.” This tank was reported to have been a part of 4th Tank Company, 1st Tank Battalion and was on or around the Haditha Dam in Iraq at the time this photo was taken. The name of the tank drew criticism due to its biblical nature and being on a tank in Iraq. We have no doubt this crew rained fire in biblical proportions during battle though!
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.
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