Sparsely attended Normandy museum selling its D-Day tanks

M4 Sherman tanks in the European Theater of Operations. CREDIT: U.S. Government)

For sale: tanks, good condition, some used during D-Day.

The Normandy Tank Museum is selling its entire collection at auction next month before closing its doors because it failed to attract enough visitors. The sale includes tanks, military vehicles, trucks, aircraft and motorcycles, many of which have been restored to working order.

More than 40 armored vehicles, along with thousands of military items used during World War II and dozens of mannequins in full battle dress, will be sold on September 18 by Artcurial, a Paris-based luxury auction house. The sale will be held in Catz, a town a few kilometers from Normandy’s Utah beach, where the Allies landed to liberate German-occupied northwestern Europe in June 1944.

“We thought the museum would attract more people,” museum co-founder Stephane Nerrant said in a phone interview. “The terrorist attacks had a considerable impact on visitor attendance,” he said, declining to provide numbers. French refinery-workers strikes that caused fuel shortages in May and June nationwide also dented ticket sales, he said.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

The museum opened in 2013, based on the private collection of founder Patrick Nerrant, Stephane’s father, who started buying WWII armored vehicles in the eighties.

WWII was the first major conflict that extensively used engines and motor vehicles.

Compared to WWI, “the use of tanks increased greatly during WWII after a formidable industrial effort,” said Frederic Sommier, who manages the nearby D-Day museum of Arromanches-les-bains. By 1939, tanks had replaced most of the horses used during WWI, he said. Airplanes also became far more widespread and were used to couple air and battlefield attacks, Sommier said.

The venue also offers tank rides and flights over D-Day landmarks such as the beaches where as many as 4,400 allied troopers lost their lives on June 6, 1944.

- Advertisement -

The 33,000 square-foot museum also has its own repair shop. It estimates the cost of refurbishing a Sherman tank at $160,000 (150,000 euros) plus labor.

Auction highlights include:

– 1944 M4 Sherman tank

Price estimated by Artcurial: $280,000 to $450,000 (250,000-400,000 euros)

- Advertisement -

The M4 was the most produced American tank during World War II, with 50,000 units made. It was nicknamed Sherman by the British-it was distributed through a U.S. war supply program to Allies including the British Commonwealth-after William Tecumseh Sherman, an American general in the Union Army during the U.S. civil war. This model was restored by the museum and is in running condition.

– 1943 Jeep Willys MB

Price estimated by Artcurial: $17,000 to $28,000 (15,000-25,000 euros)

This 4×4 is equipped with a bar on the front bumper to cut barbed wire set by the German Army in Normandy. It also boasts a chemical decontaminator, a jerrican, a water bucket, a machine gun mount and a rear rack designed to transport GIs’ equipment.

– 1943 M26 Pacific tank (“Dragon Wagon”)

Price estimated by Artcurial: $34,000 to $56,000 (30,000-50,000 euros)

Nicknamed the “Dragon Wagon” by GIs because of its bulk – it weighs 22 tons – and its transportation capacity – seven people – the M26 was used to recover damaged tanks from combat zones.

– 1943 Harley Davidson WLA

Price estimated by Artcurial: $17,000 to $28,000 (15,000-25,000 euros)

American, British and Soviet forces rode Harley Davidson WLA motorcycles during WWII. This one was restored.