An American patrol moves toward a smoldering German tank, with its crew still inside, Belgium, December 1944.
An American patrol moves toward a smoldering German tank, with its crew still inside, Belgium, December 1944.John Florea—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
An American patrol moves toward a smoldering German tank, with its crew still inside, Belgium, December 1944.
Aerial view of U.S. 2nd Armored Division tanks fanning out as German self-propelled guns open fire, two miles from the Rhine River, 1945.
An American soldier slogs through deep mud carrying ammunition to a waiting Sherman tank of 3rd Armored Division during the battle for control of the Stolberg area, Germany, 1944.
American tanks of the Army 7th Division using specially equipped flame throwers to burn Japanese defenders out of their caves and pillboxes, Okinawa, 1945.
Dead soldiers sprawled on a tank in northwest Europe, circa 1944.
Sign posted at intersection in American sector during the campaign to take the Anzio area from occupying German forces during World War II.
American soldiers of Patton's Third Army roll up a Nazi flag they have taken as a trophy after the capture of Bitburg, February 1945.
Column of American M4 Sherman tanks bogged down in the mud near Minturno during the campaign to drive German forces from Italy, 1944.
An African-American tank crew prepares a Sherman M4 for battle "somewhere in Germany," spring 1945.
The body of a Japanese soldier lies in front of a smoldering Japanese tank -- mute testament to the savage nature of the fight for control of Saipan in 1944.
An American tank crew rests in the town of Avranches, France, 1944.
An American tank rolls over a Nazi banner laid out in the street after its crew helped take the town of Lembach, spring 1945.
American soldier Julian Patrick from Kentucky, member of the U.S. 3rd Armored Division, killed in action inside his tank, March 6, 1945.
American soldiers use a Sherman tank for cover as it and they advance on Japanese positions during the fight to take Bougainville, Solomon Islands, 1944.
American M4 Sherman tank bogged down in the mud near Miturno during the campaign to drive German forces from Italy, 1944.
A weary Canadian soldier stands atop a stalled tank amid flooding in the Netherlands, 1945.
An Allied tank in flood waters unleashed by Germans, as a defensive maneuver, in the Netherlands, 1945.
Disabled American M4 Sherman tank near Cassino, Italy, 1944.
American M4 Sherman tanks rumble across an Allied-built bridge during the push to take the town of Cassino, Italy, 1944.
American soldiers widen dirt road near Minturno, Italy, 1944.
An American tank races along during desert fighting between U.S. and German forces in the El Guettar Valley, North Africa, 1943.
American sergeant stands guard beside a German-dug tank trap, Normandy, summer 1944.
American M4 Sherman tank in action during the invasion of Saipan, 1944.
A young German boy sits beside the road as a tank of the U.S. 9th Armored Division passes through his village on its way to Berlin, spring 1945.
Battle-scarred main road from Anzio to Rome littered with wrecked Allied armor, including an M10 tank destroyer (left) and Sherman M4 tanks -- a result of battle between German and Allied forces fighting for control of the Anzio beachhead area, 1944.
American soldiers and a Sherman tank equipped with a hedgerow-busting plow move forward near the town of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, 1944.
Villagers chat with American soldiers after being freed from Japanese occupation while Sherman tanks of the 1st Cavalry Division follow the retreating enemy, Philippines, October 1944.
American tank crew checks its map in Normandy, 1944.
American GIs inspect an overturned German tank, after it toppled into a crater made by a bomb dropped right in front of it by an Allied plane, December 1944.
Tank crews fight to free bogged-down M4 Shermans in the countryside near Minturno, Italy, 1944.
American soldiers aboard a tank in a snow-covered Ardennes field, Battle of the Bulge, December 1944.
American infantrymen, left behind to mop up last stronghold of Nazis in Falaise Gap area of northwestern France, line up in front of wrecked German tank with a captured swastika flag, 1944.
An American patrol moves toward a smoldering German tank, with its crew still inside, Belgium, December 1944.
John Florea—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Scenes of 'Fury': The Brutal Reality of Tank Warfare in World War II

Oct 03, 2014

Has any war ever been fought as many times as World War II? Countless books, plays and, of course, films about the war have emerged in the 75 years since the conflict began. Casablanca, Saving Private Ryan, Downfall, Stalingrad, Das Boot, The Big Red One, The Great Escape, Empire of the Sun—the list of great movies set during the Second World War is, it sometimes seems, endless.

The most recent big-budget, high-profile WWII production is Fury, written and directed by David Ayer and starring Brad Pitt (opening Oct. 17). This, according to the studio's marketing department, is what the movie's about:

April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered and outgunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

Here, LIFE.com shares photos—many of them from the very region of Europe where Fury is set—depicting tank warfare, in all its brutality and banality, as it was unleashed around the world in the 1940s. Some of the pictures are graphic. All of them were made by photographers who witnessed, first-hand, the destruction that tanks could inflict, and the grisly deaths that tank crews frequently suffered inside and outside of their cramped, armored, rolling fortresses.

Tanks along an icy road in the Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge.George Silk—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images 
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