We’re going to stay in the North African Theater of Operations for this one, with a couple of commentaries from American Lieutenants on the matter of Tank Destroyers. Lieutenants are, of course, the whipping boys of the Army. How many movies have you seen that the lieutenant is actually competent and reliable? It seems that always they are lost, confused, overeager, detached from reality, and frequently incapacitated while requiring the grizzled old sergeant to fix the situation. Of course, the reality is that they’re just as good as anyone else with similar experience levels, and their observations are not without merit. I used to be one myself, after all.
Insignia of the 40th Infantry Division. Known as "Twelve Lieutenants Pointing North"
We’ll start off with a fairly straightforward summary of an interview with a Lt. Louis A Romani, as found in the Tank Destroyer Board archives. Quote follows:
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, Kentucky 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 M-3s and M-10s.
2. Employment of the Battalion.
The battalion was primarily used on secondary missions as reinforcing artillery and, as such, fired harassing fire TOT. They were also used against pillboxes, fortified houses and in close support of infantry with both direct and indirect fire.
3. Close support of infantry and tanks.
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.
The unit felt 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.
4. Primary Mission.
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 M-10 was very effective against Mark V and Mark VI tanks and the Ferdinand self-propelled gun, 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.
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 usually was the center of the pillbox.
6 Indirect fire
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.
6. (Yes, the document miscounted). Night Fire.
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 positions 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.
7 Against personnel.
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. These replacements were better trained and more efficient than those received from other branches.
9. Battalion Commander
Battalion commander and his staff served to co-ordinate supply and as a special staff officer on the staff of the divisional commander.
10. Reconnaissance Personnel.
Reconnaissance 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.
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 (sic) 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.
13 Mechanical Failures
14 Spare parts
There was little call for replacement of spare parts in the vehicles of this battalion. Divisional ordnance had approximately one company in excess destroyers and as they were in need for replacements, the destroyer was replaced by another entire vehicle.
15 Personal Belongings
Personal belongings were kept in a pool in the battalion area under a guard from their own unit.
16 Ammunition load.
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.
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 with the SCR 300 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.
Transcript ends. Now, I’m not sure that having to knock out enemy armour by ricocheting from the ground is the ideal solution to a problem, but I guess one cannot argue with success. This probably should be taken as a reminder that the German cats were not a surprise to the US Army when they were finally encountered in France: However, the lads waiting in the UK to cross the Channel simply knew “Our colleagues in NATOUSA have met the Panther and it seems we can deal with it when it shows up.” It seems reasonable to conclude that they weren’t aware of the more detailed reports coming in from Fifth Army, which I’ll get into in a future article.
A memo cover sheet was found next to the above interview summary, and as it covered the same area and time period, I’ll digress to it. It may not have been by a Lieutenant. Transcript begins:
Col RCM (Ray Calhoun Montgomery, TD Board President)
As a result of interview with an officer who was with the 1st Inf. Div. and who saw action from Nov 10, 1942 to 10 March 1944 at Oran, El Guettar, Sicily, Salerno, Cassino, and Anzio Beachhead, following items of interest are passed on to TD Board members:
1. 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 toward enemy pill box. Engineers make a path thru mines. Arriving at a point where aerial photograph indicates probable location of pill-box, patrol listens in darkness to hear enemy personnel talking, or in some other way determines the exact location of pill-box. 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 thru the minefield. Infantry- man rides in M10fighting compartment with the TD crew. Arriving within 75 yds. of the pill-box, camouflaged pill-box cannot be seen by the M10 crew. But the infantryman nevertheless sights the gun directly on it, using asreference the stake or rock or chalkmark he made the night before. Pill-box is then destroyed by one shot fired point blank at 75 yd. range. Significance: Teamwork.
2. 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 existence of M10s and thought 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 remainder to immediate 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.
3. Interviewed infantry officer tells of effective use made of phosphorous shells fired from 4.2 inch mortars. States that shells were fired by chemical Bn 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 demoralised by them.
4. Attached are two photographs ta.ken by interviewed officer at Anzio Beachead.
a. An M10 of the 601 TD Bn which had run over a German mine and overturned. Crew was unhurt. M10 was later recovered and re-employed.
b. An M10 of the 601 TD Bn at Anzio, still equipped with exhaust and intake vents used for disembarkation in turret-deep water. This M10 landed successfully at H plus 3 hours.
Transcript ends. Of course, the attached photographs apparently had been un-attached over the intervening sixty years. We’ll be coming back to TDs at Anzio in a future article, actually.
So we’re going to go back a little bit to August of 1943, with a letter by a wounded lieutenant addressed to the Tank Destroyer Board. Transcript begins:
On Friday, July 30, I had the honor of meeting Major Wood, and had the further privilege of seeing the expression of your thoughts with regard to appropriate equipment for tank destroyer units. [Chieftain’s thought: On a totally unrelated matter, I am frequently struck, as I read documentation from the archives, as to how the art of writing appears to have been lost over the past few decades. Even notes from junior enlisted personnel are written with a vocabulary and mannerism which is rare to find today.] The trend of your thoughts, if I am to understand correctly what Major Wood told me, and if I am to interpret properly the equipment I saw, is that life protecting armor is desirable only if speed is not sacrificed.
The battles of Tunisia demonstrated to us in the 601st TD Bn that speed was not so important. While the half tracks left much to be desired in speed, especially in the spurts of speed demanded of the last vehicles in a column on a road march, what we lacked was armor and maneuverability. Except, perhaps, in the November stage of the Tunisian fight, no battles were lost, to my knowledge, because our vehicles lacked the speed to get them to the scene of action. In every case we maintained a reserve of speed which we were not able to use because of traffic or mud conditions. For example, our arrival at Kasserine Pass after the Germans broke through in February was delayed by several hours by those conditions, and not as a result of the limitations of our machines.
On the other hand, many battles were lost because our half tracks could not withstand the withering fire of a long-barrelled 75. Our men did not call the half-tracks a “Purple Heart Box” for nothing. The only thing that could have saved us Sbeitla [“at” Sbeitla? – Chief] on February 17 would have been many heavily armoured weapons. In that battle, the weapon that delayed the enemy longest was not our thinly clad M-3 half track, but rather the more thickly skinned M-3 and M-4 tanks.
Tank destroyers are not supposed to slug it out, I was told: Therefore, half-inch armor is sufficient protection because they will not get into situations where the weight of metal is important. Tank destroyers will give proper maintenance to their equipment: Therefore, we can afford to have delicate mechanisms.
But, in Tunisia we did slug it out – even as close as 50 yards. In Sicily they slugged it out on the beach. And in Italy and France and Germany they will slug it out. Certainly an M-10 will not save its crew from all shots fired at it but it will give them better than an even chance to do their job and come back the next day to fight again.
The half track we used in Africa had, I believe, a more or less conventional commercial motor in it. We had frequent quiet periods in which to do a reasonable amount of maintenance on our vehicles. But we had motor failures and we had transmission failures at the worst time. If anything can go wrong with a vehicle, somehow it manages to happen in battle. Our battalion lost men and equipment at such times. The vagaries of battle are difficult enough to deal with without having to nurse a vehicle through them. If a vehicle is a delicate mechanism, its place is not in a tank battle. If the M-10 is any less delicate than a T-70, then that is the vehicle that can carry us less falteringly to a more bloodless victory.
Tank destroyers must be just that – to be that, they must be stronger than tanks so that they may have the unquestionable opportunity to destroy them. What good is it if a tank destroyer weapon arrives on the scene of battle if it is only to be destroyed itself? We do not willingly ask men to sacrifice themselves uselessly, but that is what a T-70 compared with other weapons available means for many of our men.
Our airplanes cost more than any similar planes of our enemies. And they weight more – and they may be slower. But let me remind you of the comparative losses of enemy planes against our own. Our pilots get back to fight again because they have armor sufficient to protect themselves against many of the missiles shot at them. Are our tank destroyer men no less valuable? Do they not deserve allwe can put into a vehicle to help them fight again – to help them protect their lives – to help them knock out four tanks for every tank destroyer lost?
Lawrence Marcus, 1st LT, FA
Although it is not specified in either this letter or this cover sheet, it seems likely that Major Wood, representative of the TD Board, had inquired of the good lieutenant his opinion of the upcoming 76mm Gun Motor Carriage, T70. (Of course, what would turn into the M18 Hellcat). At this point, I shall diverge briefly to a note from a Colonel Jacoby at Anzio on 12 May 44. The question he was asked, amongst others, by TD Board was: “Are any battalions equipped with the T70? If so, how is it liked?”
The response was:
No battalions are equipped with T70s, but the 805th will be equipped as soon as sufficient T70s arrive in the theater. The T70 is thoroughly disliked for the following reasons:
a. Its armor is entirely too thin and it is not the superb seventy-thousand-dollar foxhole which the M10 is.
b. It uses a gas engine, which is a tremendous fire hazard when hit. This does not exist to such a degree with the Diesel powered M10. [Another Chieftain’s observation: I frequently find that in period documentation, the term ‘diesel’ is capitalised. This is, of course, completely correct as it’s the man’s name, I just find it interesting that it has evolved over time to an uncapitalised state. I do note, however, that the use of the apostrophe preceeding “phone” or “plane” seems to have already become rare by WW2.]
c. It looks very much like the German Mark V.
Anyway, I have digressed again. Lt Marcus’ letter made it to the top of the Tank Destroyer Board. Col Hanzen L. Hoyt, Tactical Section, remarked “Lieutenant Marcus speaks of the vulnerability of the half-track with ¼” vertical armor. It would seem unfair to compare this vehicle to the T70 with greater mobility and heavier sloping armor. I see no reason at this time to consider our doctrines unsound.”
A note added to the discussion by an individual initialed “RTJ”, whose identity I have not yet determined, was perhaps a little more realistic.
Col R. C Montgomery:
1. When “slugging it out” with tanks is considered, then armor is absolutely necessary. Lt Marcus is concurred in on this score.
2. TD doctrine prescribes that tanks will not be charged or pursued in the open by destroyers. However, it does prescribe that when tanks advance, tank destroyers hold their ground, since destruction by fire can be accomplished best at close range. Of course, with this goes the necessity of “digging in” if possible. Holding and destroying at close range is “slugging” in most cases.
3. Soundness of doctrine is very often interpreted by the individual according to his understanding of particular parts of that doctrine. Certainly Lt Marcus and those who have had need for more armor in combat cannot be contradicted as to that need – and their injuries are less than those of the ones who cannot return. I believe TD doctrine is sound as expressed in WD Training Publications, and in revised FM 18-5; but when it is examined carefully on the battlefield doctrine alone does not stop armor piercing small arms (cal .50) fire.
This brings us back to a topic we’ve mentioned before: The difference between a piece of equipment to win a war, and a piece of equipment to win a battle. And with respect to the M18/M10, the last few extracts further enhance the difference of opinion as to what’s important, with user opinions varying rather depending on what they were doing. Units which objected to turning in the M10 for M18 may have had opinions contrary to the Tank Destroyer Board, but it wasn’t just out of familiarity. Even the M10 was plenty fast enough for the tactical job. A hand-written note under RTJ’s commentary, initialed at the bottom by possibly RCM, stated:
Why would not the M4 tank w/76mm gun make a good destroyer? Equal mobility w/M10 – more armor – more machine guns – a proved vehicle – termed the “best tank in the world”. Many observers have commented that the M10 has more speed than it was possible to use on the battlefield.
An interesting question. And one which, in hindsight, had much merit to it. We can discuss that one in more depth later.
Now, of course, every now and then, someone shows up to reinforce the stereotype. As a general rule, when I was a Lieutenant, I would generally do my best to be invisible to people above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Frankly, as a Major, I generally still have such a philosophy. Such a thought process was not, evidently, in the mind of a 1LT Lyal H. Bate, of the 662nd TD Battalion, in North Camp Hood, Texas when, on the 31st May 1943, he wrote a letter to Major General Orlando Ward, Commanding General, Tank Destroyer Center. This was the cover sheet.
The attached suggestions for additional tactical employment of tank destroyers are respectfully submitted for what value they may have.
The ideas here mentioned may appear fantastic, but probably no more so than the basic idea of T. D. may have seemed as recently as five years ago. This is not the result of a sudden "brain-storm", but is a matter that has been given considerable thought over a period of months.
I have taken.the liberty of sending this to youpersonally rather than through official channels for the following reasons: If the idea is sound or should lead to other related ideas, it must necessarily be kept secret. Or if a similar use is already being considered, the less known to others, the better. For the enemy to build a defense against this suggested employment, even if it were discarded, could disrupt other plans we might have along completely dissimilar lines.
Not a good start.
The actual letter was as follows:
Subject: Suggested Modifications for Additional Tactical Employment for Tank Destroyers
To: Commanding General, Tank Destroyer Center, Camp Hood, Texas
1. The following suggestions for employment are based on recent successful experiments of others in under-water operation of the quarter-ton 4 x 4 truck and light armored cars.
2. In any landing operation it appears that attacking troops are extremely vulnerable during the time they are in landing barges and immediately upon landing on shore. It is during this period that they have no adequate covering fire, as the floating platforms of the navy and/or landing barges limit the accuracy of these weapons. It is believed that if a weapon were designed that could approach the shore with extremely low silhouette, or none at all, the chance of surprise would be greatly improved, and the number of' casualties in the initial landing operations materially reduced.
3. It is believed that the present M-10 tank destroyer or projected T-70 destroyer could be modified to meet these conditions. News reels have shown pictures of quarter-tons being landed in the surf and driven on shore with only the windshield above water. It is' also understood that the car armored, light, has been operated in as much as four feet of water.
4. It, therefore, appears possible that tank destroyer vehicles could be insulated to operate for short periods in as much as 30 feet of water. Their crews could be equipped with breathing apparatus similar to that which is now used in shallow-water diving operations, consisting only of a helmet and oxygen tanks. It is believed possible that the present service gas mask could be converted for this use.
5. Given ideal weather conditions, solid bottom, and a sloping shore line, these vehicles, complete with crews, could be lowered to the floor of the ocean with the aid of long ramps or derricks under the cover of darkness or a smoke screen, and could proceed under their own power up to the shore. They would be invisible to any defenders until within point-blank range of the shore and in a depth of less than eight feet of water.Due to the 'adaptability of the vehicles, with their open turrets affording unlimited visibility, they could start firing once their turrets were out of water. This would present practically no target to any defenders and unless the shore were mined, there would be no way of stopping them from overrunning gun implacements, machine gun nests, and setting up an adequate covering fire of both machine gun and high velocity APC and/or high explosive shell, affording a protection to any landing barges that may follow behind.
6. While the writer has had no opportunity to experiment along these lines, it is believed that total emersion in the water would not affect the· gun or its recoil system and that the electrical systemsof the vehicles can be insulated against water. The exhaust and air-intake systems of the motors could be equipped with long, flexible hoses, the ends of which could be floated on the surface of the water by means of buoys. These would attract little notice from the shore, and once in shallow water, by means of a connection yet to be designed, the hoses could be disconnected and dropped off.
7. Suggested equipment for the crews would be a light woolen uniform, close fitting, that would quickly dry, a self-inflating life jacket to permit escape from -any vehicle that might stall while under water, and a standard type diving helmet or a modification thereof. Ammunition would necessarily be water-proofed and all parts of guns greased with water-proof grease, and while under water, breeches would be left open to facilitate draining.
8. It is recognized that ideal conditions would be necessary to effect a landing with such equipment, but such conditions do exist, particularly in the South Sea islands. But the element of surprise attained by such employment would more than compensate for the loss of any vehicles. An enemy, having no knowledge of such employment, would have no adequate means of defense short of a -heavy barrage of delayed fuse artillery shell and/or land mines placed on the beach. The latter would hardly be effective, as it would not be necessary for the destroyers to land on the beach to provide covering fire, as they could operate their guns in at least six feet of water.
9. One company of tank destroyers so equipped could afford sufficient protection for the landing of a combat team.
10. Request opportunity to experiment along these lines.
OK, Lieutenant. Just to get things straight. You have just written directly to the Commanding General of your entire branch, with an idea so important, so secret, that you don’t think that officers in your own chain of command are reliable enough to be entrusted with it, and that idea is to drive an M18 totally underwater along the sea bed, the vehicle so perfect for the job that the fact that the entire vehicle is filled with water is compensated for by the ‘visibility’ provided by the open top. Oh, and you want to sacrifice a TD for the experiment. I suspect it likely that you did try your chain of command, and they politely declined to endorse it. While stifling laughter.
To his credit, Major General Ward replied on 5th June.
The more independent thought we can stimulate here the better. I am pleased. Your idea of waterproofing the tank destroyer for under sea approach of hostile shore I believe might much better be applied to a tank as it already has a top. Furthermore, the tank gun has less muzzle velocity, hence a more curved trajectory, hence more suitable for landing. One of the main reasons that a ship's fire is somewhat ineffective is on account of its flat trajectory.
I believe your ideas are sound and possible of accomplishment but I don’t believe the tank destroyer is the weapon to start on.
It may interest you to know that in landing at Oran one 105mm half track attempted just such an operation by jumping off into 25 feet of water, the Maracibo having grounded on a bar well out from shore. The gun, incidentally, is still there. At another beach where the Maracibo was grounded the rubber pontoon rafts were joined together and in a matter of a very short time the ship's whole cargo was on shore and fighting. , Actually the success of the Oran operation can be laid to the use of rubber pontoon equipment in getting tanks ashore. Its use with luck precludes the very complicated waterproofing now practiced.
I suggest that you send your communication to the National Inventors Council, Department of Commerce Building, Washington, D. C., where the machinery is set up for analyzing suggestions such as · these to see whether there is a practical application.
Major General, US Army
Apparently LT Bate thought about this for a little bit, or else he was kept sufficiently busy by his chain of command so as not to have time to bother General Ward again. But on 3rd Sept 1943, he sent a letter to The Adjutant General, War Department, Washington D.C. At this point, LT Bate’s return address is now in 19th TD Group.
1. At the suggestion of Major General Orlando Ward, Commanding General, Tank Destroyer Center, and in compliance with par. 3, Sec. 1 WD Cir. #248, 1942 the attached suggestions tor modifications for additional tactical employment of tank destroyers is submitted for whatever disposition that may be indicated.
It is unclear in the record as to what the Adjutant General of the War Department thought, or if 1LT Bate sent a third communication to the Dept of Commerce as MG Ward had suggested, but the record does have a copy dated Sept 14 1943 of a letter from the Dept of Commerce’s “The National Inventor’s Council”.
Dear Lt. Bate: ·
The Council asks me to thank you for the suggestion in your letter of September 3, 1943, and the interesting presentation.
Careful examination by our technical staff shows the distinctive features of this particular design ought to be given further consideration by appropriate authorities, and we hope to advise you later of any report or decision which may result. The circular enclosed is for your general information.
We appreciate your patriotic desire to aid the war effort and inviteother ideas which you feel deserve attention.
Yours very truly,
L. -B. Lent
Enclosed is an extra copy of this letter which you may care to turn over to your Commanding Officer for incorporation in your service record.
There is nothing further in the file as to the further disposition of Lieutenant Bate.