They destroyed 14 vehicles and 5 guns, sowing disorder among the enemy

The story of four M4 Sherman tanks that slipped behind the German lines in WWII

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In World War II,tanks acquired a prominent offensive role, as demonstrated by the famous German "Blitzkrieg". That role was also played by tanks in other armies, including the US. Precisely, this Friday the Yarnhub channel has published an excellent video about the history of four American M4 Sherman tanks, belonging to Company "C" of the 752nd Tank Battalion, part of the 88th Infantry Division of the US Army, who went 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) behind German lines in Italy on June 5, 1944, one day before the Normandy landings. The action took place in the mountains north of Rome.

There is very little information that I have been able to find about the main protagonist of this feat, Lieutenant Frank L. Heaton, Jr, the commander of the four tanks that carried out that raid. In he cites the facts behind the awarding of the Silver Star: "While leading his tank company in support of an infantry regiment, Lieutenant Heaton seized an opportunity to break through enemy lines and create disorder among the German troops. Early in the operation his tank was hit and partially disabled by fire from a Mark IV tank. However, he continued to lead the advance, penetrating to a depth of six miles in enemy territory."

The text continues: "Under his direction the company intercepted and destroyed twelve enemy trucks, two anti-tank guns, three anti-aircraft guns and two Mark IV tanks. A company of enemy bicycle troops was machine gunned and shelled, causing disorganization among them and complete rout in the area. During this latter action, Lieutenant Heaton's tank again was hit, and began burning. After ordering his crew into other tanks, Lieutenant Heaton reorganized the remainder of his company and withdrew to our own lines. The daring leadership displayed by him in the performance of this deed exemplified the highest traditions of the military service."

This decoration was awarded to Lieutenant Heaton on September 26, 1944. Sadly, he did not live to receive it. According to, Lieutenant Heaton died in combat in the Italian town of Saturnia, in Tuscany, on June 15, 1944, ten days after that audacious raid. His remains are buried in the Florence American Cemetery. I'll just leave you with the video:

Certainly, this story has certain similarities with the raid seen in the movie "Kelly's Heroes" (1970), which talks about the raid of several American Shermans behind German lines in Italy. The main difference is that Lieutenant Heaton's tank action was part of a military offensive, not a bank robbery operation.

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