Every now and then I come across things in the Tank Destroyer Board archives which are interesting, but not necessarily suitable for a post by themselves. Sometimes I'll put up the picture or comment on my Facebook page, but I think this collection of writings is worth sharing.
We start with some comments reported to the board in February 1945, from the ETO.
Searchlights employed so that the beams shine just above the height of a man will cause individuals and vehicles to cast shadows which are easily seen. This reduces the probability of surprise by the enemy in snow covered terrain. - Commanding General, 35th AAA Brigade.
[Chieftain's Note: Those of you who make scale or Lego models may be familiar with this technique. When you drop a part, the use of a torch (flashlight) at floor level casts long shadows, making it easy to find it.]
Photo from the Korean War. Truck and Jeep-mounted searchlights were used as late as Vietnam
Much excitement was caused in our command post when a line captain reported 25 Tiger tanks headed our way. Questioned, he admitted he had seen one tank and "assumed there were at least 25 since they usually attacked in mass." Investigation showed there was just one tank, and that between us and it was a road block covered by a minefield, bazooka teams, and three tank destroyers. 1106th Engineer Group.
[Chieftain's Note: Well, this demonstrates the difference between information and intelligence.]
Tank destroyer crews should not reply to enemy small arms fire at night. One night a tank destroyer platoon ignored considerable enemy machine pistol fire. At dawn, seven enemy tanks were discovered in the area from which the fire had come only 200 yards away - ready to engage any answering weapons. All of the tanks were destroyed. - No unit named.
[Chieftain's Note: An interesting observation; one I'm not sure of the traction it'd get today.]
When preparing for an operation we try to give our company and platoon commanders and platoon sergeants a short flight in a cub plane over the area in which they are to operate. This follows the ground, map and sand table reconnaissance. - CO, 771st TD Bn.
[Chieftain's Note: This brings back my common refrain that there's a lot more to a balanced army than just big guns and thick armor. Those resources spent on such light aircraft could be spent on bombers or fighters, but the sort of advantage demonstrated here is a significant leg up on the opposition.]
In Italy, an effective team composed of engineers, infantry, and one tank destroyer has been used against German pill boxes. A small patrol, perhaps 1 platoon of engineers and 1 platoon of infantry, moves forward at night towards enemy pillbox. Engineers make a path through mines. Arriving at a point where aerial photograph indicates probably location of pillbox, patrol listens in darkness to hear enemy personnel talking or in some other way determines the exact location of pillbox. Spot is then marked by a stake, a chalked cross, or by reference to some rock or tree. Patrol then retires to base. Next day the infantry platoon leader guides an M10 along the path cleared through the minefield. Infantryman rides in M10 fighting compartment with the TD crew. Arriving within 75 yards of the pillbox, camouflaged pillbox cannot be seen by the M10 crew. But the infantryman nevertheless sights the gun directly on it using as reference the stake or rock or chalkmark he made the night before. Pillbox is then destroyed by one shot fired point blank at 75 yards range. Significance: Teamwork.
[Chieftain's Note: Slow but sure. Note how it takes a full day to reduce one single pillbox, with the knowledge that there will likely be another one a few hundred yards later the next day. However, it gets the job done with little risk. It also seems that the M10 needs to effectively blind fire through foliage, by use of basically a range card prepared by the infantry. It would be interesting to know how many times they missed, and had to try again the next night.]
A common or garden German pillbox
In Tunisia, an infantry unit was dug in behind a hill and saw about 50 German tanks attacking them. Friendly artillery was laying indirect fire on the tanks but failed to stop them. Infantry then looked back and saw M10s approaching from the rear. But the infantry had not been oriented as to the existence of the M10 and through that these were some strange variety of German or Italian tanks. They seemed to be completely surrounded by enemy tanks. Then the M10s took firing positions and amazed the infantry by promptly destroying eleven enemy tanks and causing the remainder to withdraw. Interviewed officer was wounded at this action. He states that in subsequent similar actions, infantry not only recognized the M10s but broke into cheers at their approach. Significance, however, is that troops must be taught to recognize friendly units before the battle, and not during it.
M10s in Tunisia. Note that the guns are locked to the rear, this was necessary for any movement outside of contact.
Interviewed infantry officer tells of effective use made of phosphorous shells fired from 4.2" mortars. States that shells were fired by Chemical Battalion and had the effect of incendiary bombs, burning everything they touched. States that captured Germans had skin burns from these phosphorous shells, and seemed to have been demoralized by them.
An M10 of the 601TD Battalion which had run over a mine overturned. The crew was unhurt, the M10 was later recovered and re-employed.
This officer served as an enlisted man and as a platoon leader with the 701st TD Battalion in the African and Italian Campaigns. He received his training at Fort Knox, KY for six months and went overseas in May 1942, where he remained for thirty-four months. He received a battlefield promotion during the African Campaign. The 701st TD Battalion was equipped with M3s and M10s.
[Chieftain's Note: This implies a few things: One, he was involved from the very beginning, the 701st being one of the first TD battalions to see combat. Two, as a battlefield commission, he's presumably fairly respected and reputable, which colors some of his comments below.]
The battalion was primarily used on secondary missions as reinforcing artillery and, as such, fire harassing fire TOT. They were also used against pillboxes, fortified houses and in close support of infantry with both direct and indirect fire.
As a rule, one platoon of TDs was attached to each infantry company. In these cases, the platoon usually remained in a position in readiness where indirect fire positions were prepared. When targets were located by the infantry, they moved forward to prepared positions with hull defilade and took the targets under fire. After completing firing, they again returned to the indirect fire positions.
M10s supporting infantry
The unit feld that the knocking out of AT guns was not a mission for TDs and therefore would not usually engage them, but left them for the tanks to dispose of.
[Chieftain's Note: At first glance, this seems a bit counter-intuitive: Why send targets up for the equipment specifically optimized to destroy them to engage? However, the true advantage of the AT gun lies in its concealability. If it's already identified, then a tank is not as disadvantaged as it may be at first. That said, I still would have lobbed a few indirect HE rounds at it.]
In operating against enemy armor, wherever it was possible, destroyers were sited in depth with two guns in the center and one on each side, the latter in flanking fire positions.
It was found that the M10 was very effective against Mark V and Mark VI tanks and the Ferdinand self-propelled guns, up to a range of 1,000 yards, with the best range between 400 and 800 yards.
This unit trained their gunners to shoot just short of the tank on rocky ground so that the round would bounce into the tank from underneath.
[Chieftain's Note: I'm really not sure what to make of this one. At first thought, one thinks it's an act of desperation or just detached from physical possibility. However, the interviewee is a solid, dependable soldier. He obviously feels that the M10 is the master of the German heavies. I'm going to rate this one as "possible, but with a question mark." Ideally it shouldn't be necessary to try for such trick shots to begin with, but as long as the crews are confident and they actually get the kills, who's going to complain? I don't believe he's claiming that they got most of their kills that way.]
However they managed it, this Elefant met its end at the hands of Americans
It was found that APC ammunition was very effective against concrete and hardened steel pillboxes. These were taken under fire at ranges from 500 to 800 yards and on the average of ten to fifteen rounds were sufficient to reduce the pillbox.
Normal procedure was to assign two guns to a pillbox from positions which were not close together and control them by radio. Both guns then fired on a predetermined point which was usually the center of the pillbox.
In indirect fire, this unit was employed both by company and by platoon. When employed as a platoon, they operated their own FDC. When operating as a company, the artillery sometimes operated the FDC and at other times it was operated by company headquarters. Most of their missions were TOT harassing fires.
The infantry usually designated, during the day, the target to be engaged at night and in many cases this allowed eight hours for reconnaissance and the location of position and determination of range. At night the TDs (usually two guns) occupied predetermined positions, kept their motors running and notified the infantry when they were in position. The infantry then illuminated the target by flares, and the TDs fired as many rounds as possible very rapidly and then withdrew before the enemy artillery came down on their positions. In at least one case, sixty rounds were fired by one gun in this manner.
In some instances, TDs were used in direct fire against personnel and it was found that best results were obtained by using HE with fuse delay and aiming just short of the infantry which caused an air burst about ten feet over the enemy.
Replacements were received from all branches of the service, some coming from TDRTC (Tank Destroyer Recruit Training Center). These replacements were better trained and more efficient than those received from other branches.
[Chieftain's Note: Many of the combat arms branches, of course, took replacements from wherever they could. This is probably the single biggest failing of resource management that the Army Ground Forces was responsible for.]
Battalion commander and his staff served to coordinate supply and as a special staff officer on the staff of the divisional commander.
[Chieftain's Note: This is, unfortunately, a reflection of the reality of the units being parceled out to supported units. We continue to do so today: I spent my Afghan tour in Squadron staff because the Troop I commanded was split amongst various PRTs around the country.
Recon personnel did little or no reconnaissance for the unit due to the static situation. They were used mainly with infantry as security detachments and at times held a part of the front line.
[Chieftain's Note: Bear in mind that TDs were by doctrine a reactive and defensive measure; TD recon could be pointless. However, when employed as battalions and brigades, there would be more call for organic recon. Note also the comment by the 771st TDB commander about air recon in the ETO. This could be because the ETO was more dynamic than Italy.]
This battalion was streamlined and the security personnel were practically eliminated. Those that were left were used as replacements in the gun companies.
When TDs were operating with infantry of tank units, security was provided for them by such units, but it was found by this officer that unless the TDs were actually needed by some other unit, no consideration was given to local security of TDs.
Due to the static situation, a mobile reserve was usually held out. Therefore, the TDs actually in combat were able to be withdrawn by platoon or by company and given three or four days about once a month for maintenance, rest and training in a rest area.
[Chieftain's Note: As you can imagine, that's not a very long time to do all that. Maintenance would mean something more than just checking the oil or changing a roadwheel.]
[Chieftain's Note: OK, the reliability of US equipment is legendary, but I would honestly expect this to mean "nothing systemic and worthy of note." I'm sure something broke down over three years of combat.]
There was little call for replacement of spare parts in the vehicles of this battalion. Division ordnance had approximately one company in excess destroyers and as they were in need for replacements, the destroyer was replaced by another entire vehicle.
[Chieftain's Note: I can only presume that the Germans would have murdered to have so many vehicles that they could afford to have some lying around. However, from the perspective of the commander, this is an ideal setup, with a very high operational readiness rate.]
Personal belongings were kept in a pool in the battalion area under a guard from their own unit.
[Chieftain's Note: It's a shame that such things are necessary amongst comrades in arms... but as I've said before, "STEAL" is a military acronym.
Ammunition was loaded on the decks of the destroyers and in every available space so that there was no certain load. Approximately one third of the ammunition carried was AP or APC (whatever was available) and two-thirds HE.
[Chieftain's Note: You can never have too much ammunition, unless you're on fire, and ammo capacity is a frequently-referred-to factor in the design of America's armored vehicles. It was a primary reason why AGF and Armored Force tried to keep with the 76mm over the 90mm for as long as possible until it was clear that the armor/penetration war just could not be kept pace with.]
The communications within this officer's unit are described as fair. Within the platoon they were good. While the company headquarters could reach the platoon, the platoon could not reach the company. It was found that while the SCR 610 worked very well when tested, the range was not over 1,000 yards after moving over rough terrain.
When working with the infantry, this platoon was furnished the SCR300 for communication with the supporting unit.
In static positions, wire was laid to the gun and the remote control unit was used.
In indirect fire positions, wire was laid to the FDC.
Discuss on the forum thread, here
|Nicholas Moran (The_Chieftain) is the Military Specalist at Wargaming America.
Follow the Chieftain on Facebook, YouTube, or live on TwitchTuesdays at 16:00 PT (or an occasional late evening).