Road Workers Amazed By WWII-Era Discovery in Chartres

Photo Credit: Alain Jocard / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Alain Jocard / AFP / Getty Images

During the six years that made up the Second World War, both the Allied and Axis powers deployed an astonishing number of troops and armaments. They engaged in countless battles throughout Europe and the Pacific, so it’s no wonder that, decades after the conflict’s conclusion, remnants continue to be found. The most common are hand grenades, mines and debris, but a discovery made by a group of French road workers in Chartres was something much larger and more incredulous.

Chartres during the Second World War

Chartres was the site of significant conflict during the Second World War. It was one of many European cities to suffer heavy bombings during the early years of the conflict, and it was also the site of intense fighting in August 1944, just over two months following the D-Day landings at Normandy.

Free French members sitting on the ground with their firearms
Free French members following the liberation of Chartres, August 1944. (Photo Credit: Robert Capa / Keystone / Getty Images)

It was the Americans that first arrived and began reconnaissance missions in the area, prior to launching an attack against the Germans. The city was liberated on August 18, 1944 by the Third Army’s 5th Infantry and 7th Armored Divisions. There were Free French members and resistance fighters involved, as well.

The fall of Chartres was just one of many of armed meetings between the Allies and Germans that eventually led to the liberation of Paris.

An amazing discovery beneath the streets of Chartres

A team of road workers in Chartres were conducting routine maintenance when they ran into what looked like a giant machine located deep in the area they’d dug up. They were unable to lift it with their truck, so used a mechanical digger to pry it from the ground. While they were able to get it out, they needed help from experts to figure out what it was.

Crew raising a mud-covered M5 Stuart Light Tank from the ground with a machine
Mechanical digger lifting an American M5 Stuart Light Tank that belonged to the 31st Tank Battalion. The vehicle was discovered beneath a street at Chartres in June 2008. (Photo Credit: Alain Jocard / AFP / Getty Images)

According to them, it was a World War II-era American tank that had been used during the liberation of France. Astonishingly, they were able to find witnesses who remembered seeing this very vehicle during the liberation efforts, manned by US troops.

This M5 Stuart Light Tank, as they identified it, was part of the 31st Tank Battalion, 7th Armored Division, who helped with the liberation of Chartres. It was abandoned by the Americans during a reconnaissance mission, after it either slipped off its tracks or ran out of fuel. When the war was over, the locals simply buried it, instead of having it removed.

M5 Stuart Light Tank

The M5 Stuart Light Tank was developed by the Americans in 1942 as an improved version of the M3. As a result of the increased demand for radial aero-engines, which were in short supply, the US military wanted to design a tank that could operate with another engine. One developed by Cadillac, the V8, was eventually chosen to power the new vehicle, which also featured a redesigned hull.

By the end of the Second World War, a total of 2,074 vehicles had been produced. It was a good tank, but, compared to others, it was rather small.

M5 Stuart Light Tank parked in a field
M5 Stuart Light Tank, 1940s. (Photo Credit: PhotoQuest / Getty Images)

More from us: K2 Black Panther: One of the World’s Most Expensive Tanks

It’s not unusual that the discovery made in Chartres was an M5 tank, given it was readily used by the Americans during their push through France. However, it was a poor match for enemy tanks, as it was only equipped with a 37 mm cannon, compared to the 88 mm ones many German tanks were equipped with.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.