This page tells the story of Second World War veteran Joe Spagnolo. He and his crew drove a Dragon Wagon in France in 1944-45 and he made the photos you see here. Driving the M25, as they called it, was no easy task. They all had volunteered for this job, but they didn't know anything about the monster vehicle. They didn't even know how to fuel them up, let along drive them. It was all OJT: on the job training.
They got orders to go and retrieve German tanks, and try to field repair US Sherman tanks if possible, or bring them back to the rear shops. Joe was put in charge of a crew of six driving a M25.
They soon found out the Dragon Wagon was an amazing vehicle. One Sherman was stuck (sunk) in the mud about 100 feet off road and the Dragon Wagon was able to pull it out! The tankers couldn't believe what they saw.
It also was possible to load an enormous amount of cargo on it.
They repaired a lot of Shermans in the field. If they could not fix it, it would be brought back to the rear for repairs. Sometimes they had to defend themselves. The Dragon Wagon was equipped with a 50 caliber machine gun. You can see Joe with one on one of the photos. He got to be very efficient in talking down (field stripping the 50 caliber gun), he could do this even in the dark. He also drove Sherman Tanks when needed.
Inside the Cab they carried a Tommy Gun along with M1 carbines and they all wore 45 pistols. Not much room inside, as hot as hell in the summer, icy cold in the winter. Just like a tank crew he said, fight, work, eat and sleep in your vehicle.
Apart from retrieving broken down Shermans, German tanks were also brought to the rear so they could be examined to discover their strengths and weaknesses. Joe picked up a few German Panther tanks and three German King Tiger tanks along with many of the Sherman tanks that needed repairing. Once he was ordered to go out into the battle field to pick up disabled German tanks only. They were ordered not to stop for any MP's or US Soldiers. One Panther Tank was booby trapped and killed his gunner! Joe also lost part of his hearing due to that explosion. The Germans didn't like the idea that the US soldiers were picking up their tanks.
The M25 needed a lot of maintenance itself. The armoured cab was too heavy for the chassis it was on, so there were front end problems. Sometimes they were carrying tanks with it that were a lot heavier than the maximum that the trailer was capable of. The trailer was designed for a maximum load of 40 tons, ample for a Sherman, but the Panthers were a lot heavier than that. The major problem with the Dragon Wagon was the lug nuts breaking under heavy stress from carrying heavy tanks. On one of the photos you see a wheel off to an angle, that was due to broken lugs which displaced the wheels!
The M25 would slip to the side on icy roads, the M25s had to pull each other back on the roads many times in the winter months. The photo of a dragon wagon under tow was also due to the icy roads. They could not get any traction up icy hills, even in super low gear, so they had to have a M25 Tractor (only) on the top of the grade and help pull the other units uphill with their winch!
The only sore spot Joe had, was that he was Italian and some of the guys, including some in his crew, did not like him being in charge. Bu it was not his fault that Italy got involved in the war, he said. He was born an raised in the good ole USA. Joe was a very strong tuff individual and took no (crap) from anyone, if they got out of hand they had to deal with him, no backing down! Towards the end they all had respect for him, but wounds take a while to heal even if you're a tuff guy!
Joe made it through the war in one piece. Towards the end of the war in 1945, he and his crew even slept under the Eiffel tower in their Dragon Wagon. Hopefully the photo from this great moment will turn up eventually.
Our thanks to Joe, and to his son Sal for scanning the photos and relaying his story.
Larger versions of the photos can be seen on this page
Back to Dragon Wagon page