Monday 11 December 2023

Oddball's Tank (1970)

The scene in the 1970 film Kelly's Heroes, where three Sherman tanks emerge from a railway tunnel and destroy a German Army camp, is a highlight from one of my favourite World War II movies. Operating ten miles behind lines the three tanks, commanded by the eccentric hippy Sgt Oddball, are on a quest for 14,000 bars of gold along with Infantry Private Kelly himself, played by Clint Eastwood. Kelly, who had been busted down to a Private from the rank of Lieutenant led a platoon which included Sergeant 'Big Joe' portrayed brilliantly by Telly Savalas. Whilst on a family holiday on the lower Danube recently my ears pricked up when I heard that we would be visiting Novi Sad in Serbia. I'd read recently that Oddball's tank is still parked up in the town.

Oddball's Tank. Or is it?

Eschewing the local tourist attractions (such as they are), my wife and I set off to track down the tank. Sure enough, we found the Sherman outside the Museum of Modern Art near the waterfront. It's in a sorry state and sits next to a number of WWII era artillery pieces. Apparently 599 Sherman M4A3E4 Sherman Tanks were taken on by the Yugoslavian Nation Army (JNA) under the U.S. instigated Mutual Defence Aid Programme. They were taken out of service in 1966 and whilst most were scrapped, some were retained - including three that were used in the 1970 film Kelly's Heroes.

Kelly's Heroes - Command Tank
Oddball - avoiding negative waves!

The film is set in France in late 1944 and the three Shermans were pretty authentic, sporting as they did, the 1944 pattern 76mm gun. The Tiger tanks which appear later in the film are carefully modified Soviet T34s - notwithstanding the care that went into the modifications for the film the big giveaway is that their turrets are set much to far forward on the tanks' chassis. Oddball had made a number of bizarre modifications to his command tank in the film. Firstly, a large loudspeaker was affixed to the turret (during the aforementioned tunnel attack, the loudspeaker is blasting out 'All for the love of sunshine' by Hank Williams Junior). Secondly, in some scenes metal tubing was added to the gun to make it look like the calibre was more than 76mm. Thirdly, munitions were modified to fire red paint (which came as a surprise to a Tiger Tank commander towards the end of the film).

Novi Sad - Sherman Tank

Kelly's Heroes was filmed in the picturesque Croatian village of Vizinada on the Istrian Peninsula. Obviously, in 1970 Croatia was part of the Republic of Yugoslavia and so it is entirely feasible that the tank should end up where it is. There are plenty of references to the Novi Sad tank having been used in Kelly's Heroes but are there any clues to nail this down definitively? One thing is clear in that the tank is not the one that Oddball rode in and which featured predominantly in the film. That tank was D68454, whereas the Novi Sad tank is designated 822 (see magnified portion on the photo below). 

Command Tank - Kelly's Heroes

Novi Sad Sherman - 822

Where does this leave us? Well, notwithstanding the fact that the tank was not the one driven by Oddball, it is entirely feasible that it was one of the other two featured in the film. Sadly, I've not been able to hit the pause button quickly enough to spot the turret numbers in the movie but I think there is enough circumstantial evidence to conclude that there is a link. As for Oddball's tank - it's probably parked up in the garage of the mansion he bought with his share of the loot. But then again, he did trade it up for a Tiger at the end of the film. I guess we'll never know!