[Editor’s Note: The following story is the fourteenth in the series Bits of the Benelux. This series takes a deep dive into the stories, cultures and traditions found throughout Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.]
MONS, Belgium – For many people, late August marks the end of the summer holiday season or the start of a new school year. For the city of Mons, Aug. 25 to 27, also marks one of the most unique World War II commemorations in the Benelux.
Known as "Tanks in Town," the annual event sees hundreds of World War II tanks, military vehicles and reenactors make their way to the city to honor its liberation by the U.S. Army’s 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Armored Division in early September of 1944.
However, unlike with most other commemorations, events are not limited to the outskirts of town. Instead, a massive military parade follows the route of the initial U.S. tanks through the surrounding communities and into the city center, making stops at historic WWII locations and memorials along the way. The parade culminates with the triumphant arrival and tribute ceremony at the Grand Place (or central square) itself.
According to Jean-Marc Devos, vice president of the Royal Mons Auto Moto Club and lead coordinator of the event, the idea for a historic military parade through Mons first began in the 1980s when the city asked the club to help restore the first tank to have entered Mons during the war. The tank, an M5 Stuart nicknamed “Fish and Chips,” made its first appearance as part of a commemorative convoy in 1984, and even carried its original commander, U.S. Army Maj. John Randolph Tucker, through the city in 1989.
The first official Tanks in Town celebration took place in 2001. It has taken place almost every year since, with 2023 marking the event’s 22nd edition. This year’s iteration will include over 150 military vehicles and 300 participants from the Royal Mons Auto Moto Club and partner organizations from across Belgium, France, and the Netherlands.
While the Royal Mons Auto Moto Club is the lead organizer of Tanks in Town, Devos said its ongoing success is due to the enduring relationships and passion for history of all those involved. In addition to the support of their fellow vehicle clubs, he said the city of Mons provides logistical aid with everything from approving the parade route, to helping make signs and cutting grass at the event sites. The U.S. Army has also been a strong partner, providing current military vehicles and Soldiers to participate for multiple years of the event.
Alongside the parade, Devos said many other commemorative events will take place throughout the weekend. Before following the liberation route into the heart of Mons, most of the reenactors and vehicles spend Friday night and Saturday at the military camp at the Bois-Brûlé in Ghlin. There, they will host an international military flea market, rides for the public, vehicle displays and exhibitions, and an evening light and sound show recounting the events of the 1944 battle.
An amphibious vehicle showcase will also take place at the Grand Large in Mons on Saturday afternoon.
Devos, who acts the lead vehicle driver during the parade, said his favorite part of the weekend is seeing the crowd’s excitement as the vehicles first enter the Grand Place and begin staging around the Sunday afternoon.
He said he hopes Tanks in Town allows attendees to experience the same sense of gratitude he and his fellow event participants feel for those young service members who fought and died to liberate Mons all those years ago.
“History repeats itself, considering everything happening in the world now,” Devos said (through a translator). “Those young [WWII] service members really paved the way for NATO and the alliances we enjoy today.”
For a full schedule of events, visit the Tanks in Town website.
For parking and road closures in Mons from Aug. 25 to 28, visit the city website. [Note: Website only available in French, best viewed in Google Chrome for translation.]
This series, Bits of the Benelux, will continue to explore the many cultural traditions in and around the Benelux. Further stories like this on the local traditions, festivals, and events are scheduled to be published monthly, as they occur.