#PutinAtWar: US Tanks to Join Russian Military Parade

Russia recovers and refurbishes WWII Sherman M4 tanks and highlights the effort ahead of Victory Day

Left: (Source: Sputnik News); Right: (Source: Twitter / @JennRollins1002).

In July 2017, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) posted on their Twitter account that two WWII U.S. Sherman M4A2(76)W VVSS tanks were found in the Barents Sea. The two tanks were recovered from the ocean floor, the photos publicly released, and no further ado has been made since. Reportedly, the tanks will now be featured in Victory Day parades on May 9 in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

@DFRLab checked if open source evidence supports these claims.

At the time the tanks were found, Sputnik News reported they would be donated — together with other recovered artifacts — to the Artillery Museum in Saint Petersburg and Northern Maritime Museum in Archangelsk. However, NTV.ru news reported on April 9 that these tanks had new life and were scheduled to be restored and refurbished in Vladivostok. According to other reports, one of the long-lost U.S. tanks will be featured in Russia’s annual May 9 Victory Day Parade in Moscow, while the other will be similarly paraded in St. Petersburg.

While the initial reports about the discovery of U.S. tanks occurred in July 2016, the Russian MoD promoted the findings a whole year later on July 2017. At the time, the Russian MoD declared to have found the remains of the “Liberty Ship” S.S. Thomas Donaldson, sunk in 1945 by a German U-boat while transporting a number of now precious historical artifacts. Both Sherman tanks were the prize treasure recovered by Russia.

According to Sputnik News, the tanks were found in the Barents Sea. WreckSite.eu, which specializes in mapping sunken ships, confirmed that the wreckage of S.S. Thomas Donaldson is located in the Barents Sea, next to the Russian-Norwegian border.

Wreckage of S.S. Thomas Donaldson (1945). (Source: WreckSite)

The story faded away as the tanks were planned to be given to the Artillery Museum in S. Petersburg and Northern Maritime Museum in Archangelsk.

Recovered Sherman tanks. (Source: Siberian Times)

The recovered Shermans made a comeback on the internet as early as April 8, 2018. Videos began to appearing on social media websites and were soon followed by Russian media news reports and articles.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDrr9xi9YDI

These videos claimed that one of the tanks was transported to Vladivostok for refurbishment. @DFRLab checked the locations in the video to see if these claims were true. Here are all of these locations pin-pointed on the map:

The IL-76 cargo plane (NATO reporting name: Candid) landed at the International Airport of Vladivostok. The main terminal building was clearly seen in the video, as the plane made a turn on the taxiway.

Bottom Left: (Source: YouTube / Anna Liesowska); Top, Bottom Right: (Source: GoogleMaps).

The painted guiding patterns next to the main terminal also coincided with the patterns captured on the video, further confirming the location.

Left: (Source: YouTube / Anna Liesowska); Right: (Source: GoogleMaps).

The tank was then loaded onto a truck and transported to a nearby location. The location appeared to be a military encampment next to the airport.

Left: (Source: YouTube / Anna Liesowska); Right: (Source: GoogleMaps).

These building were shown as unidentified on Wikimapia, nonetheless the surrounding buildings were marked as military structures. Both locations identified in the video are in close proximity to each other, in the territory of Vladivostok International Airport.

Identified locations. (Source: GoogleMaps).

The tank was also confirmed to be U.S. Sherman M4 tank. The resemblance to the compared historical photo is uncanny.

Left: (Source: YouTube / Anna Liesowska); Right: (Source: Gunmart).

Conclusion

Another Victory Day is upon us and pageantry abounds. In this case, tanks flown across Russia for refurbishment and expected at Moscow’s celebration. The story might have gone unnoticed if not for the last-minute appearance of these tanks right before the May 9 Victory Day parade. These Sherman tanks were given to the USSR by the U.S. via the lend-lease programme, providing crucial aid in the fight against Nazi Germany.

The interesting spin to a faded story raises the question what is the purpose of this sudden refurbishing and public attention, but not likely a source of good will in wider geopolitical relations. As the tensions between the U.S. and Russia continue to grow, we will see how the newly refurbished tanks are presented during the May 9 Parade.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

Follow along for more in-depth analysis from our #DigitalSherlocks.