Cuba 

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With Cuba's signature of the Rio Treaty of 1947, the Cuban Army's armoured strength was further augmented with the receipt of seven M4 Sherman medium tanks from the United States in February 1957. The Batista regime in Cuba used Shermans against Castro's rebels, and these remained in service after Castro's take-over. At least one Castro Sherman fought against the M41s landed during the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion.

The battle for Santa Clara

In December 1958, Che Guevarra fought in the city of Santa Clara, where a Sherman Company was present in the Regimiento No.3 "Leoncio Vidal". This was the most important battle of the revolution, because when President Batista saw that the troops of Che took half of Santa Clara, he abandoned Cuba in the morning of January 1 of 1959, and the revolution became victorious. Although the Regiment No.3 was very strong (2000 men), they lost their morale when they heard about Batista's escape so they surrendered on the same day and were taken prisoner by Che. This moment is shown in the pictures below.

(Please click on the photos (as applicable) to jump to large-scale copies)

M4A3(76)W HVSS
Scan courtesy of Willem de Boo
Shown left is Che at the beginning of the battle, with a Sherman M4A3(76)W HVSS in the background. He broke his left hand at the beginning of the battle (he fell from the second floor of a house during the battle). The white bandage on his left hand and black bandage around the neck to support the hand is visible in the photo.

The man who speaks with Che, wears a typical "revolutionary" uniform: a mixture of Batista's uniform (yellow khaki), peasant, and armed with an American Garand M1 rifle. Nobody in Cuba in 1961 was armed with Garands (only with Belgian FALs and Czech M52 and type 26 pistol/machine guns) and nobody had this uniform, but for the olive green of the "rebel army" and the green/blue of militias.

Scan courtesy of Joe de Marco
The photo on the left is from the book Che, A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson, and shows Che's men on a captured Sherman driving through Santa Clara toward Havana.

There is this observation a little later in the book: "When he arrived, Fidel enacted his triumphal entry to Havana like a grand showman, riding into the city at the head of a noisy cavalcade on top of a captured tank."

The photo is interesting as it portrays the triumph of the moment, signs of the heavy US influence in Cuba, and the 3 cent cup of coffee!

Scan courtesy of Joe de Marco
Fidel After 40 by Jack Skelly
(Insight on the News, January 25 1999, p.31)

Forty years ago this month, Fidel Castro emerged from the Sierra Maestra to establish a communist dictatorship. A veteran newsman was on the spot and recounts it here:
"On Jan. 8, 1959, Fidel Castro, with his 10-year-old son Fidelito on one side and one of his most trusted guerrilla fighters on the other - Maj. Huber Matos - rolled into Havana on a U.S.-made Sherman tank. At least 1 million Cubans lined the highway and streets, shouting and yelling, "Gracias, Fidel!" or "Thank you, Fidel!" and "Esta es tu casa!" or "Make yourself at home!" Such was the beginning of the Communist dictator's regime, which has lasted 40 years as of this month..."

Photo: Triumphant entry: Fidelito (top), Fidel (right, gesturing) and leaders of the guerrilla movement ride a tank into Havana on Jan. 8, 1959.

After the revolution

The captured Shermans were used for training only in 1959-1960. All of Batista's tankers were out of the army by 1959. In 1960 Cuba started to receive large quantities of tanks from the USSR and Czechoslovakia (more than 100 in December 1960) and tank crews were trained in those countries. During the Bay of Pigs invasion Castro fought with dozens of T-34, SU-100 and IS-2.

In January/February 1959, Fidel Castro reportedly trained himself firing a Sherman in Managua, a military camp near Havana. Castro personally fired and competed with Lopez Cuba (see below) in firing the gun at palm trees near the camp. He said: "Well, we're empty, but we can't shoot anymore at the palm trees because they are national tree, and it is prohibited by the laws and the Constitution of Cuba ".
Later, during the Bay of Pigs invasion, Castro also fired a tank gun, this time a T-34 and a SU-100, to a ship of the invaders in the bay.

One of the best known Cuban "tanker" Generals, the Division General Néstor López Cuba, began his career as a tanker in a Sherman by orders of Castro in january 1959. He later trained other crews in the Sherman, and the 25 best trained Sherman crews manned the T-34/85 and the SU-100 in 1960. Lopez Cuba fought in Syria in 1973 against Israel and in 1976 in Angola against the South Africans.


Sources:

Rubén Urribarres provided most of the notes for this page - see Rubén's page on Tanques cubanos.
Joe DeMarco and Willem de Boo provided scans.
Further sources were:
  • English, Adrian J. Armed Forces of Latin America. London: Jane's Publishing Co.Ltd., 1984.
  • Skelly, Jack, 'Fidel After 40'. Insight on the News, January 25 1999, p.31.
  • Zaloga, Steven J. The Sherman Tank in US and Allied Service. (Vanguard series no.26). London: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1982.

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    Page created: 26-02-2000
    Last update: 01-08-2002

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