Organization plans to bring something unique to D-Day

A 155mm M1 “Long Tom,” a recent acquisition by Florida-based WW2 Armor, will rattle the earth at D-Day Conneaut this month. The organization, devoted to educating the public about tank warfare, will make its fourth trip to the re-enactment.

CONNEAUT— A Florida-based organization dedicated to the mechanized warfare of World War II plans to bring something unique to D-Day Conneaut this year.

WW2 Armor, headquartered in Deltona, Florida, near Orlando, will be making its fourth appearance at the big re-enactment on the shores of Lake Erie. The group is dedicated to the role tanks and other armored vehicles played in the war.

As in years past, WW2 Armor will bring an assortment of tanks and support vehicles, but will also use the occasion to show off its latest acquisition: a 155mm M1 gun, known as “Long Tom.” The group recently took possession of the formidable weapon, and plan to fire off some (blank) rounds during the weekend.

The crowd should be impressed, said John Thomas, director of facilities/event coordinator for WW2 Armor.

“It’s an incredible piece of artillery,” he said during a recent phone interview. “The show it will put on will be massive.”

Long Tom joins a number of other pieces — including tanks, a half-track and a motorized howitzer — that are coming to Conneaut. Also making the trip is a vintage ambulance, Thomas said.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, WW2 Armor is bringing machines that would have been used in the Normandy Invasion, Thomas said.

“We want items that would have been seen on the beach on D-Day,” he said.

The vehicles are part of a collection assembled by Rabbi Rob Thomas, said John Thomas (no relation). Rabbi Thomas began putting together his inventory just a few years ago, Thomas said.

“He has been very, very aggressive” in finding authentic vehicles, Thomas said.

Rabbi Thomas is a military veteran — he served in the Middle East — with a keen interest in World War II, especially armor of that era.

Thomas has strong credibility among dealers in military hardware, John Thomas said. “They reach out to him daily,” he said.

To date, the collection includes several U.S. and German tanks, some active and some undergoing restoration, as well as authentic support vehicles. Some modern-era supply vehicles are also in the fleet, too. All are housed in “several large warehouses” outside Orlando, Thomas said.

Vehicles undergo a thorough restoration process, Thomas said. No cost is spared to create a vehicle that is authentic and safe for the crew and public, he said. All tanks, for example are fitted with a contemporary fire suppression system, Thomas said. Cannon and smaller arms are adapted to fire blanks, he said.

All vehicles are licensed “under the watchful eye” of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Thomas said.

“He will not take a penny,” he said. “He carries the whole load. He considers it his honor to provide an opportunity to see the equipment and (commemorate) our great victory (in World War II).

WW2 Armor is comprised of full-time staff and a group of volunteers who undergo rigorous training on safety protocol, Thomas said. Driving such massive vehicles, as well as operating the live guns, can be very risky, he said.

Personnel undergo “very regimented” training at regular intervals. “The business of what we do is extremely dangerous,” Thomas said.

Some 30 team members will make the trip to D-Day Conneaut, Thomas said. “They will give talks — and put on an incredible show,” he said.

WW2 Armor’s main mission is to share the story of tank warfare, battle tactics and what it meant to serve inside a tank, according to the organization’s website.