Tuesday, June 06, 2000

Teacher may have uncovered rare D-Day tank




By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Regina Sansalone
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        A Cincinnati Montesorri teacher curious about an odd-looking tank has initiated a chain of events that may lead to the recovery of a rare Sherman tank from the waters of the Gulf of Salerno off the coast of Italy.

        The U.S. Navy is looking into the possible recovery of an amphibious Sherman tank that may have been used in the D-Day invasion that began 56 years ago today. The presence of the sunken tank was brought to the attention of U.S. military authorities by Regina Sansalone, a teacher at Summit Country Day.

        Ms. Sansalone had been working in Italy for B&B News, a small documentary film company out of Rome, Italy, when an underwater cameraman took some footage of wreckage about a mile off the coast of Italy and in 45 feet of water in the Gulf of Salerno.

        “There was a Sherman tank and then a Sherman tank that had some rubberized canvas sidewalls as well as two rear propellers,” said Ms. Sansalone, who lives downtown.

        Ms. Sansalone began researching the odd-looking tank, which is called a Duplex Drive Sherman tank, and finally brought it to the attention of U.S. military authorities about a year ago. The information worked its way to the U.S. Army Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor in Fort Knox, Ky. Ms. Sansalone supplied the underwater footage.

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        Charles Lemons, curator at the Patton Museum, was excited by the find as he watched the tape.

        “The minute they got to the tank it was totally obvious they had Sherman DD,” said Mr. Lemons. “There was no doubt whatsoever, even in that dark, murky water. I said, "Yep, you got a DD.'”

        The “DD” is an amphibious Sherman tank, a piece of equipment that was intended to get regular Sherman tanks ashore during assault landings while presenting a minimal target, thus offering infantry troops who had al ready stormed ashore some protection against fixed fortifications on a beach.

        The amphibious tank apparently went down during an accident as troops trained in the Gulf of Salerno in July 1944, possibly in preparation for the invasion of southern France in August 1944.

        Mr. Lemons thinks this tank could have been used in the Normandy invasion that began on June 6, 1944, and marked the beginning of the liberation of Europe and the end of World War II.

        “It's very possible that this tank could have participated in the D-Day landings,” said Mr. Lemons, who is still researching the history of the tank. “Even though it was lost in the training accident, it very well may have been in combat prior to being lost.”

        Only a few hundred DD Sherman tanks were produced, actually converted by the British from regular Sherman tanks. They were fitted with propellers in the rear and a flotation device, a rubberized canvas screen, that would enable it to stay afloat.

        Many of them did sink, or were sunk, said Mr. Lemons, and maybe one, and probably no examples of the tank exist in any American collections. The tank is apparently destined for the Patton Museum if recovery is possible.

        “Very few people have ever seen one up close,” said Mr. Lemons.

        Frank Jardim, who was with the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C., when Ms. Sansalone first contacted him, and is now director of the Harbor Defense Museum in Fort Hamilton, N.Y., said the significance of the DD Sherman tank is that an amphibious tank would present a much smaller target to enemy guns as it came ashore from a few hundreds yards out.

        U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Phil Pall, diving and salvage officer with the U.S. Sixth Fleet in Naples, Italy, said they are looking into salvaging the tank from the ocean floor, but some legal and funding issues need to be resolved.

       



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