AFTA Cobra King Page

Cobra King, an M4A3E2 Jumbo Sherman, is probably the most famous, documented and researched vehicle employed by U.S. forces in World War II. In April 1944, the Army requested that a heavily armored "assault tank" be produced to support infantry against heavily fortified positions, especially against the Siegfried Line, and to be able to withstand the heavier antitank guns employed by the Germans. The Fisher Tank Arsenal at Grand Blanc, Michigan already producing M4A3 Shermans, was employed to create the Jumbos. A standard M4A3 Sherman with the new one piece glacis was used as a base. 1 1/2" armor plate was added to the front and upper hull sides giving an armor thickness of 4" and 3" respectively. A new 5 1/2" cast transmission housing was installed to house an improved final drive and a new turret based on the T23 was added. This turret had 6" armored sides, 2 1/2" rear and a 7" mantlet on the front. The 75mm main gun was retained because of its superior HE round. Because of the increase in weight from 30 to 42 tons, all Jumbo tracks were fitted with extended end connectors on the tracks to improve flotation. 254 M4A3E2s were built in a three month program between May-July, 1944, Cobra King being most likely built in early July.

250 Jumbos were shipped in batches to the ETO and distributed to armored divisions. When General Patton's Third Army, 4th Armored Division received its allotment of Jumbos, Cobra King was assigned to Company C, 37th Tank Battalion and became the company command tank. It was fitted with a long-range radio for the company commander's use. Cobra King's use in action was not specifically documented until December 1944.

During the German winter offensive, the Battle of the Bulge, an important crossroads town in Bastogne, Belgium had been cut off and surrounded by German forces. Patton's Third Army was tasked with trying to break through the German lines in the south with the 4th Armored Division as the main spearhead of this counterattack. On December 26, 1944, Lt. Boggess, commander of Cobra King was fighting his way on the road from Assenois, Belgium to Bastogne. Cobra King was way ahead of the rest of the column and had just destroyed a German bunker along the road when Boggess spotted several uniformed figures in the woods near the bunker. They wore the uniforms of U.S. soldiers, but knowing how Germans were disguising themselves as Americans, he maintained a wary eye. He shouted to the figures. After no response, he called out again and one man approached the tank. "I'm Lieutenant Webster of the 326th Engineers, 101st Airborne Division. Glad to see you." With that meeting at 4:50 p.m. on December 26, 1944, Patton's Third Army had broken through the German lines surrounding Bastogne.

The crew of Cobra King pose for this famous photo near Bastogne, Belgium after they broke through enemy lines on December 26, 1944. The crew consisted of First Lieutenant Charles Boggess, Corporal Milton Dickerman and Privates James G. Murphy, Hubert S. Smith and Harold Hafner. (U.S. Army Photo)

After Bastogne, Cobra King continued as part of the 4th Armored Division. At some point it had, like many other Shermans, a wire matting welded to the hull and turret. This wire matting held cut tree branches used for camouflage. It also had its 75mm gun upgraded to a 76mm and had an aircraft .50 caliber machine gun added as a coax replacing the standard .30 caliber.

Cobra King's history does not end there. After the discovery of Cobra King as a monument tank in Germany and being shipped to the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor restoration shops at Fort Knox, careful examination of the vehicle began to reveal tell-tale clues to its history. The first clue was that the rear left bogie station was reversed and also damaged where it connects to the hull. Splinter damage to the underside of the hull was also evident. Patton Museum volunteer Don Moriarty also discovered cooked off rounds of .30 caliber ammunition in the hull ventilator between the driver and bow gunner positions.

On September 11, 2009, the debris collected on the previous day by Don Moriarty was gone through, with notable artifacts separated from incidental debris. It soon became evident that there were a lot of ruptured .30 caliber cases and loose projectiles and after finding a starter tab from a cloth ammo belt, curator Charles Lemons theorized that, based upon the ruptured casings and lead missing from the projectiles, the ammunition must have been destroyed in a fire. After entering the bow gunner's position and making a closer inspection, Don discovered charring and soot, obvious evidence of a fire. He also found more projectiles and casings, one even wedged under the driver's instrument panel. What caused the fire that cooked off the ammo is unknown, but it must have happened close to the end of Cobra King's operational life since no one attempted to clean out the ammo debris after the fire.

A comparison view of a normal bow gunner's position in an M4A3 Sherman on the left and the condition of the same position in Cobra King on the right. Note the extensive scorching and fire damage resulting from a .30 caliber ammo cook-off. The question still remains on what started the fire. (Patton Museum Photos)

After doing more research and discovering a post-war photo of an M4A3E2 Jumbo at a repair depot in Lager Hammelburg that had matching characteristics of Cobra King, the theory was presented that this was Cobra King and that it had participated in "Operation Hammelburg," the controversial mission which was personally ordered by Third Army commander General George S. Patton. The operation took place on March 26-28, 1945 with the official purpose of liberating a prisoner of war camp, OFLAG XIII-B, near Hammelburg, Germany. But unofficially, its purpose was to free Patton's son-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel John Waters, who was taken prisoner at Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, in 1943.

A small task force comprised of men and vehicles from the 37th Tank Battalion and 10th Armored Infantry Battalion commanded by Captain Abraham J. Baum, was formed. Task Force Baum consisted of M4A3 Shermans, M5A1 Stuarts, M4/105 Shermans, jeeps and halftracks. The total strength was 314 men and 57 vehicles.

The task force fought through German lines with serious losses and reached Hammelburg and liberated the camp, but Patton's son-in-law was wounded and had to be left behind. Ultimately the entire operation was a total failure when German forces in the area eventually overwhelmed the small task force, destroying or capturing all vehicles and capturing Baum and almost all of his men and the liberated POWs.

Since Company C of the 37th Tank Battalion was in this raid, it leads to the question - did Cobra King participate in the ill-fated Hammelburg mission? In the book RAID!: The Untold Story of Patton's Secret Mission by Richard Baron, Major Abe Baum and Richard Goldhurst, Baum stated that a tank named "Cobra King" commanded by Lt. Nutto was knocked out and abandoned on March 27, 1944 as it approached Hammelburg. But some historians have discounted this entry citing that the need for speed was essential on this mission and that a heavy, slow-moving Jumbo would be a hindrance.

Through these observations of Cobra King and research, then Patton Museum curator Charles Lemons proposed at the time the following: "Cobra King is slowly revealing its secrets. The Patton Museum staff and volunteers have been brain-storming over the implications of what we have been finding. We all agree that this is "Cobra King" - no doubts what-so-ever. What the big question has been - what happened to the tank after December 26, 1944."

"We can safely state that the vehicle remained in the 4th Armored Division - and remained as the command tank for Company C until its demise in combat. Yes, in combat - in fact the information we have indicates that the vehicle met its end in March of 1945. We firmly believe that Cobra King was lost with the rest of Company C, 37th Tank Battalion, and Task Force Baum, on the raid on Hammelburg."

"Reminiscences from then Captain Baum, as written in the book "RAID!", place Cobra King at the assault on Lager Hammelburg, where it was hit and put out of action. Unfortunately, Abe Baum does not note the damage."

"However, what we have for Cobra King is a busted #3 road wheel assembly on the left side and evidence of a fire and subsequent small arms ammunition cook-off inside the BOG (bow gunner) position. We have a vehicle that was recovered and taken to, of all places, Lager Hammelburg, where it was left in the yard until the mid-1950s."

"Further, C Company was only informed less than a day before the action, having been selected because it had the most tanks of the battalion. No commander would have abandoned one of his strongest vehicles - a Jumbo with a 76mm main gun and .50 caliber coax - nor could he abandon his own command vehicle. Interviews with Brigadier General Jimmie Leach, B Company Commander, 37th Tank Battalion, show that even when in a hurry the tanks rarely traveled faster than 15 mph to avoid losing the infantry support, so a marginally slower vehicle wouldn't have mattered."

In the lower right hand corner, presumably Cobra King is seen in a photo of an inspection tour of the EUCOM Transportation Training Center located at Lager Hammelburg on April 19, 1948. Before becoming a training center, it had once been a repair facility for the Seventh Army. (U.S. Army Photo)

"Hammelburg was in the Seventh Army zone of control and 4th Armored Division, under Third Army, never came within 40 miles, with the exception of Task Force Baum. So how would a 4th Armored Division vehicle (Cobra King) end up in a Seventh Army repair facility?"

An enlargement and enhancement of the photo above reveal two interesting clues that help verify Cobra King's presence in the Hammelburg area. The top arrow points to the foundry casting mark and serial number. Different manufacturers had different patterns, but this pattern matches Cobra King's bow gunner's hatch. Also, at the bottom arrow, there is a small indentation on the front hull which Cobra King also exhibits today. (U.S. Army Photo)

One of several photos taken of Cobra King and its crew after breaking through German lines during the Battle of the Bulge. As the arrow indicates, the foundry markings resemble the ones in the previous photo. (U.S. Army Photo)

A more recent photo of Cobra King showing the small indentation in the front hull which matches the mark in the 1948 Lager Hammelburg photo above. (Patton Museum Photo)

After the war, Cobra King became a monument tank, put on display at Erlangen, Germany and then from there relocated to Vilseck, Germany where it remained in obscurity, the wrong registration number painted on its side from one of its numerous repaints. In May 2001, Army Chaplain Keith Goode was checking out monument tanks while serving in Germany. He was locating serial and registration numbers of Sherman tanks on U.S. Army bases. He passed the information on to the G104 Sherman interest group in the U.S. where member/historian Joe DeMarco confirmed that the tank was indeed the actual Cobra King.

After learning this information, another member of G104 stationed in Germany, Sgt. Brian Stigall of the Fifth Battalion, Seventh Air Defense Artillery and Steven Ruhnke, First Armored Division museum curator, paid Cobra King a visit and also confirmed the serial number and passed the information up the chain of command. Along with other Army historians, including Patton Museum curator Charles Lemons, the identity of Cobra King was officially confirmed. Cobra King was then shipped to the United States and on to the Patton Museum's workshops on July 9, 2009 for restoration.

At first the plan was to restore the interior and exterior to the way Cobra King looked on December 26, 1944. However, the discoveries of her interior altered that plan. It was decided by then Patton Museum director Len Dyer that the exterior of Cobra King would be restored to how she looked during the Battle of the Bulge, but that the interior would be left showing interior modifications to ammo storage and the damage sustained presumably at Hammelburg. Four Patton Museum volunteers, Don Moriarty, Garry Redmon, Coleman Gusler and Robert Cartwright were selected to work with museum staff on the restoration along with other volunteers who also contributed to the restoration.

After a two-year exterior restoration, Cobra King was as finished as possible before she was shipped out to her new home at Fort Benning, Georgia in August 2011.

Click on the links below to see photos of the Cobra King restoration. Use your back button to return to this page to see each gallery. Hover your cursor over each photo to see captions.