Recent visitors to the American Heritage Museum were greeted with a startling sight as they crossed from the World War Two half of the museum to face the Korean War section. Plain as day is a M4A3 Sherman painted bright yellow with angry eyes painted beside the gun and, on the front plate, a mouth full of sharp teeth that looks like it could swallow a man whole.
Normally when machines of war, especially tanks, are depicted, they are covered in camouflage. They are painted a similar color to the landscape they are operating in, or they have branches and foliage added to break up the silhouette. The paint scheme on this tank is quite the opposite. It’s even more incredible, then, to learn that this tank actually existed with this paint scheme and rode into combat with it!
In 1950, somewhere deep in the Psychological Warfare department of the US Army, an astute soldier realized that the 1950/1951 years was the year of the Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac. In late 1950 with North Korea leaning on China to provide soldiers, the word went out to tank crews all over Korea to paint Tiger faces on their tanks, hoping the ‘superstitious’ Chinese wouldn’t shoot at the tanks for fear of bad luck, or, more likely, they’d hesitate long enough for the tankers to get the first shot off.
At the American Heritage Museum, our M4A3 76(W) HVSS (or, M4A3E8/Easy Eight) is painted specifically to look like The 5th Regimental Combat Team, 5th Tank Company’s TK-45. Perhaps because the 5th RCT was known as the Bobcats, TK-45 (and likely, a few other tanks in the platoon) got the most frightening and complete tiger scheme of them all! It’s not known how effective the paint jobs were, as it’s difficult to find accounts from either side of the conflict. For one reason or another, after about a month, the Tiger on TK-45 was painted over and the rest, as they say, is history. (As a side note, by the time the tanks were actually deployed into combat in March 1951, the Chinese New Year had passed to the Year of the Rabbit.)
Because of the short time the tank was painted as such, reference photos are hard to come by. Thanks to the research of AHM Volunteers and the help of off-site experts and historians, we are confident this rendition of TK-45 is as true to the original as it possibly can be. In this picture (above) dated February 18th, 1951, the crew is left to right, Corporal John T. Clark (of Union, SC,) Corporal James E. Kishbaugh (Nescopeck, PA,) Sergeant Frank C. Allen (Etiwanda, CA,) Sergeant Theodore R. Liberty (Bushton, MA,) and Corporal William J. Bohmback (Boston, MA.) The picture was taken in the Han River area.