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The Chieftain's Hatch: Earning Boots

Still plugging the facebook page...

One of the things I kept an eye out for when I was at the Maneuver Conference was a new set of boots. Of the various merchant stands which were on the show floor, there were a number of boot manufacturers hawking their wares. All sorts of size and colour, except the type I was looking for. Benning may be the home of Armor and Infantry, and the Maneuver Conference may be the combined replacement for the Armor and Infantry Conferences, but you wouldn’t know it from the boot manufacturers. I would point to my feet, and say “I am looking to replace these worn-out boots”, the man manning the stand would go “Oh, tanker boots,” and then express his regret that his company did not accommodate us treadheads (I have since found a replacement pair at the Irwin PX).

There are a number of variants of the tanker boot tradition in the US Army. The common one is that one may only wear them after having successfully qualified a Tank Table VI. A related position is that one may only wear them after either having qualified TT VI or after having done a combat deployment on a tank. I personally ascribe to a more pragmatic attitude: Tanker boots came about long before anyone invented Table VI (or its predecessor, Table VIII), and they allow quite good circulation in your feet as you’re sitting in the tank for hours. My point of view, if you’re a 19K, you can wear ‘em, even if your unit isn’t scheduled to conduct a gunnery for a while. I’m in a minority, I know.

Actually, I’m also in a group of heretics who doesn’t have any particular issue with Bradley crewmen wearing them either. They have the same practical concerns as tankers do. That said, there is the whole ‘branch pride’ thing: Now that we no longer wear branch insignia on our uniforms (not a move I am particularly fond of), I have taken to wearing tanker boots by default unless there is practical reason not to, such as a dismounted training operation. For all the tradition and tank practicality, they really do make terrible combat boots.

I’m not actually sure when the first tank tables were implemented. We do know that the War Department issued FM 17-15 (Combat Practice Firing for Armored Force Units) in May 1942.

It has some nice thoughts.

A course in combat firing should include situations  involving the units in attack, tank versus tank, defense and security; special emphasis being placed on the attack and in tank versus tank action. This training is limited only by the availability of ammunition and the imagination of the instructor.

Something unfamiliar to today’s tankers:

Where possible, problems should be run over ground unfamiliar to the troops

Hmm. I can probably draw a pretty good map of Fort Irwin’s Range 1, and tell you with reasonable accuracy from memory how far the left mover is from lane 2 firing point #3…

You know it’s a gunnery when you bring folding chairs to sit on the tank’s roof and watch the conduct of the range.

Another choice quote, which I can’t see realistically happening today…

Exercises in which one tank or more to include a platoon chase a tank across country, while firing caliber .30 ammunition, afford excellent training for the gunners and at the same time develop in the crews a sense of confidence in the protection afforded by the armor of the tank. Of course it is advisable to strip the tank of vulnerable accessories such as tools, lights, horn, etc. In addition the crews soon learn from the sound to determine the direction from which the fire is coming.

None of those fancy purpose-built targets here!

Ken Estes found this nice quote from a Marine company commander in 4th Tank:

In our training phase alone [i.e. away from the division], we did two types of crew drills which interested me. We taught driving at the tank school, as well as gunnery, but combining them was very important; learning how to shoot and move. One drill for shooting and maneuvering became a kind of contest or competition. We gave each tank a color and gave it a can of enamel paint bought at a local paint store. The crews dipped the tips of the .30 caliber bullets, in their machine gun ammo belts, into the paint and so marked their ammo. One platoon would then attack the other in a tactical problem, over the rolling hills and there would be a surprise encounter with the ‘enemy’. We would then have a tank vs. tank ‘fight’ in which the gunners fired the coaxial machine gun, one round at a time, as if it was the main gun. Then we debriefed the unit on its maneuver and counted the colored scratches left by the bullets.

 Running over the ‘enemy’ target, such as infantry or a mortar, is also an approved method in the manual. There is no TC that hasn’t wanted to say “Driver, tracks, troops. Drive and adjust!”

Then and now...

 There is no indication of a formal gunnery program or standard in this manual, but there is a mention of scoring:

A competition between platoons can be held by running each platoon through a course similar to figure 5, with targets partially concealed; the mission of the platoon, to attack north from A, searching out and destroying the enemy where found and finally rallying in position B, valuation being given to the number of hits, dispersion on personnel targets, total number of hits for ammunition expended and a deduction for targets not found or hit.

 The manual gives no guidance as to the nature of the valuation, scoring system, or anything else, just admonishing the instructors that judging must be fair and impartial.

Just under a year later, FM 17-12 was released, the Armored Force Field Manual. Tank Gunnery. April 1943. This seems to have the first precursor to today’s Tank Crew Gunnery Skills Test, if you go to Appendix 1. It lays out a set of standards that the gunner has to meet, and specific tests, both written and practical. The manual also starts to delve more into range operations, and conduct of fire. Particularly:

Men must know the results of their firing if they are to acquire confidence in their weapons and improve their technique. Massed firing at unmarked targets accomplishes nothing toward improving individual marksmanship. During individual marksmanship firing, only one gun will fire at a given target at one time. Score the target before another gun is permitted to shoot at it.

It still does not, however, go into any specifics as to just what the targets have to be, or how they should be scored, still leaving this pretty much up to the local leadership.

Marines on an ad-hoc range in Samoa

Perhaps it was because the War Dept  didn’t think there was any merit in such standardization, trusting the commanders to know when their men were capable, or maybe it was a deliberate attempt to not give commanders the thought that approved live fire exercises must only be carried out on ranges, and thus allow them local flexibility to make their own ranges with whatever resources they have to hand. 

Army on an ad-hoc range in Iraq

In any case, theorists can have a lot of fun reading the large amount of pages devoted to indirect fire gunnery. Interestingly, a quick search has not revealed a gunnery standards manual for the Tank Destroyer Force. Anyway, somewhere during the Cold War, it seems, the Armor Branch finally issued specific instructions in the manual for “This is how you will score tankers, and if they don’t meet these standards, they will fail”. They even issued marksmanship badges for them.


I can at least tell you that it was by 1964, as the FM 17-12 of that year  did have a set of tank tables for the M60.

Up until about 2009, Abrams tankers were scored pretty much exclusively on the concept of “How quickly can targets be serviced?” Stay down until the targets were all identified, quickly and smoothly drive up out of the turret-down position, and then sit there knocking down targets as fast as possible. The faster you hit the target, the more points you got. Very few engagements seemed to actually assume a ‘normal’ working tank. You would have manual mode (hand crank) engagements, NBC engagements, TC engagements, auxilliary sight engagements… probably because hitting targets with a 'working M1' is too easy. Fortunately, the nice Master Gunners would at least give you The Widowmaker in normal mode (three long-range tanks in a single exposure).


When my unit converted to M3s, part of the conversion process included a Table VIII. Us tankers had a terrible time trying to understand this bizarre world of Bradley gunnery: It didn’t matter how quickly the target was ‘destroyed’ in Bradley gunnery, it only mattered (1) that it was destroyed before it dropped, and (2) that the Bradley was not exposed for more than a certain amount of time. We just didn’t get this, our belief was that the goal of all gunneries was to kill the target as fast as possible. You see, the tank gunnery standards back then assumed that the tank’s armour was proof against anything coming at it. That the tank could sit up there for as long as necessary with enemy rounds ricocheting off the turret front, and that the tank’s object was the shock of destroying enemies as quickly as possible once you had advertised yourself (by either shooting or moving), and to ‘score’ as high as possible, this is what you did. You were given more time to engage targets when you were suffering disadvantages (such as loss of power), but it was pretty much down to speed. The major concession was a crew cut (points penalty) for failing to engage the most dangerous target first.

The guys who wrote the manual for the Bradleys, however, made no such assumptions about survivability. Their baseline was ‘you won’t be killing anything if you’re destroyed,’ and they came out with a number of cross-reference tables of enemy type vs distance, to give an estimated time that “If you are visible to this target type for X many seconds, you are dead.” Stay exposed to an enemy RPG team at 300 yard for more than five seconds (if memory serves), even if you were engaging something else at the time, and you had immediately destroyed your chances of a “Distinguished” score by failing that engagment. Worse, the system didn’t care about your problems. If it takes the enemy 5 seconds to kill you if you are fully functional, it will also take 5 seconds to kill you if you are shooting an auxilliary sight engagement in manual mode. Bradley crews had to become experts at berm drills, where the Brad would reverse into the hide after a few seconds, then advance up again, thus ‘resetting the clock’. This was a serious learning experience, for both the crews and our (converted) Master Gunner who had created the course of fire. The epitomy of it was troops and PC, on the move, at night, TC’s engagement. Due to the lack of cover to ‘reset the clock’ when on the move, we had about six seconds to find and kill the troops, and a further five or so to find and kill the PC. And, by the way, don’t forget to avoid crew cuts. Just saying “gunnersabotPC/cannotengage/frommypositionontheway” as quickly as possible and firing the sensing round would take some four seconds of the five. If you didn’t say all that, points deducted.

Next gunnery, we got rid of that one.

The current manual is HBCT Gunnery, a one-size-fits-all approach for a gunnery manual which covers every system in the heavy brigade, from the 120mm tank cannon to the flex-mounted .50 cal on a HMMWV. Now everything is cross-referenced on a vulnerability table: “This line on the matrices represents a known time when a highly trained opposing force has fired at the friendly vehicle such that the probability of hit and the potential damage from that strike results in a mobility, firepower, or catastrophic kill is above 50%. The other 50% generates negligible damage.” Tanks have to do berm drills as well now, they can no longer just sit exposed and take the hits from the T-90 ‘over there’ while dealing with the other T-90. Scoring is no longer based simply on ‘time to kill’, but now ‘time of exposure.’ Insofar as that goes, I think it’s a good thing. (I have issues with some of the other gunnery standards, but that’s a different discussion).

So here’s the challenge for you. Is it possible to develop a scenario (training battle) within World of Tanks, which can be scored? This strikes me as being something for the Clans to do by way of internal competition, though I have absolutely no quarrel with the idea of maybe holding an inter-clan contest.

Obviously, there are going to be certain game limitations. For long-range shooting, a spotter vehicle is required. Personnel acting as target vehicles will have to act in the same manner for every firing vehicle. Every qualifying person must be using the same kind of tank and same kind of gun. Easily concealed vehicles may have to serve as the close range targets, ‘popping up’ by making themselves visible by shooting. There must be an observer conducting the timing and scoring. How should scoring be conducted? Using the current ‘vulnerability’ based system, or the older ‘speed’ system? What sorts of targets are out there? (Can you imagine the long-range-mover as being a T2 light?) What would each engagment consist of, given that we can’t artificially induce turret jams or gun hits. Even down to the simple question of ‘which map should we use?’

Or, more simply, is it possible to earn your virtual tanker boots? Answers on the forum, please...