Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole's TreadHead Tuesday - The U.S. Tank Destroyer Forces - Feb. 10th, 2004
Posted on 02/10/2004 12:00:11 AM PST by SAMWolf
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M3, M10, M18, M36 and M56
In summer 1940, fast, hard-hitting German Panzer forces caused the quick collapse of France and demonstrated the offensive capabilities of the tank. This caused a sense of urgency, and stopping of tanks became one of the most serious problems facing the United States Army.
In November 1941, the War Department ordered activation of a Tank Destroyer Center and Board at Fort Meade, MD.
By the end of 1942, 80 Tank Destroyer Battalions were active and 64 more planned. Known as TD units, these forces were taught to fight tanks with lightly armored vehicles, with mounted cannon, with towed anti-tank guns and as dismounted tank hunting parties using anti tank grenades.
Initially, a TD battalion was armed with half-tracks with 75 mm guns. Combat experience in North Africa, however, was unfavorable. The high silhouette of the halftrack led to the preference of towed guns that could be more easily hidden. As a result, many self propelled TD units in the US were then converted to towed gun units. Following requests from combat theater commanders, half the battalions were converted back to self propelled units. They were armed with the full track M-10 "Wolverine" Tank Destroyer carrying a three inch cannon. As enemy armor increased, tank destroyers also improved. The M-18 "Hellcat", carrying a higher velocity 76 mm gun, was developed, and later the M-36 "Jackson", mounting a 90 mm gun was used. Some versions of the M-36 consisted of the M-36 turret, mounted on the M-4 Sherman tank chassis, known as the M-36B1.
Tank Destroyer units were fast, hard hitting units and were among the most heavily armed and mechanized units in the Army. A Tank Destroyer Gun company consisted of a command post, maintenance section and three gun platoons. The gun platoon was divided into two sections of two tank destroyers and a security section in an M-20 armored car.
Tank Destroyers were extremely vulnerable due to their open topped turrets which provided no crew protection from snipers or air burst artillery. In addition, tank destroyers, unlike tanks, had no machine gun-mounted coaxial with the main gun for defense. Tank Destroyers, although resembling tanks, were very lightly armored and not suited for a tank vs. tank battle. The basic concept and design of the tank destroyer sacrificed armor for speed and agility.
Tank Destroyer units were individual, specialized units attached to larger units for tank defense and had no direct commander. Many losses and casualties suffered by TD units were the result of commanders using tank destroyers as tanks.
Nevertheless, Tank Destroyer units with their "Seek, Strike, Destroy" motto became powerful formations strong in firepower and mobility, and the TD men were renowned for their courage and tenacity.
Initially, 222 TD units were mobilized in 1942. Since massed armor used in early 1940, was rarely used after 1943, the number was reduced. Due to personnel shortages, additional battalions were inactivated and re-designated self-propelled artillery, tank, and quartermaster, or used as infantry replacements. In 1944, only 78 tank destroyer battalions remained.
In late 1945, it was determined that the best defense against a tank was another tank and the Tank Destroyer Force was disbanded. Tank Destroyer units were converted to tank or towed artillery units.
Reloading 90mm ammunition in an M36
Tank Destroyer units hold a high place in military history. Although out-gunned, under-armored, and misused in many ways, they took a high toll of enemy tanks and many other combat vehicles on all fronts. After action reports from most tank destroyer units at the end of World War II indicated over 2,600 enemy tanks and other armored vehicles were destroyed by TD units. An impressive tally of enemy anti tank guns, armored cars and half tracks, pill boxes, machine guns and aircraft shot down by tank destroyer forces showed that in spite of their severe limitations, tank destroyer forces performed their primary mission well.
With the advent of World War II, and as a result of the successes of the German Blitzkrieg, it was special units with tank-hunting and killing capabilities. Leaders decided early on that towed anti-tank guns would not get the job done. A more mobile force was needed. Originally anti-tank units, the name was soon changed to "tank destroyer." This gave the unit an aggressive nature and not a defensive one. Their role would often be a defensive one, however, lying in wait for approaching enemy tanks.
The very first TD battalions were nothing more than modified halftracks, carrying 37mm anti-tank guns or old French 75mm guns. They were used first in the Tunisian campaign with varying degrees of success, but their lack of protective armor made them easy targets. Some were sent to the Pacific, where they enjoyed better results. By 1943, they were discontinued and for that year, the army went back to the idea of towed antitank guns, imitating the German practice. Then someone had the foresight to realize that Germany used this type of weapon out of necessity.
The preference of the Wehrmacht was for self-propelled antitank weapons. The experience of the United States proved that the day of towed weapons such as these had indeed passed. They were totally unsuitable in a modern mobile environment. They served best in fixed defenses and were of little use in tank vs. tank battles, where they were needed the most.
M18 in the ruins of Brest, france, 12 September 1944
So it was that in 1944, the TD battalions in Europe were being converted back to mobile tank destroyers, or SP guns. This time however, technology and innovation had produced some formidable weapons. One was the M-10 Wolverine tank destroyer. Built on a Sherman chassis, it had an open-topped turret (nearly all US tank destroyers had this feature. Its purpose was increased ability to see the enemy) and a top-notch 75mm or 76mm gun. Its success prompted the manufacture of the M-18 Hellcat, a much lighter tank, with a minimum of armor protection, but great speed and agility. It sported a powerful 76mm gun that was an equivalent of the 75mm gun on the Panther.
M10 and M36
Then came the M-36, which would be the most powerful of all the tank destroyers. Utilizing the M-10 and M-18 as the basis, the M-36 had speed, armor and power. It also carried a 90mm gun, which with the introduction of the HVAP anti-tank round, could kill anything the Germans had, with the exception of frontal hits on a few of the later monsters.
Strangely, perhaps due to the lack of German armor toward the end of the war, these tank destroyers were never used in mass for that for which they were created. In some instance, TD battalions were disbanded, their troops sent to other armored units, or converted to infantry status.
Wild Bill Wilder
On November 27, 1941 the War Department activated The Tank Destroyer Force to carry out the mission to SEEK, STRIKE AND DESTROY enemy tanks in defensive and offensive action. Tank Destroyer Battalions entered combat in the Tunisian Campaign in November 1942 equipped with the expedient 75MM Gun Motor Carriage M3 (Halftrack). The M3 was phased out as the campaign ended in Tunisia, North Africa, in 1943.
A new full tracked vehicle, the M18 Hellcat, designed from the ground up as a Tank Destroyer, armed with a high velocity 76MM gun was the fastest armored fighting vehicle in World War II. The Hellcat first saw action in Italy in June 1944,. and was in combat until the end of the war.
By 1942 the U.S. Army Ordnance Bureau took action to strengthen the firepower of the Tank Destroyers to meet the challenge of the expected mass employment of the superior German tanks, which the Americans would encounter after the Normandy invasion. Toward the end of the M10 production, a new, more potent 90MM cannon was developed to mount on the hulls of the M10 TD. In September 1944, the M36 Tank Destroyer reached the front and proved to be the only American armored fighting vehicle that could match the heavier German tanks in firepower. (1400 of the famous M36 Jacksons fought in Europe.)
The Tank Destroyers knocked out approximately 2,600 German Armored Track Vehicles, including 300 in the Battle of the Bulge.. with an estimated sacrifice of 5,000 Tank Destroyer Men killed in action. The key Tank Destroyer contribution was helping the United States Army conquer the fear of the panzer and gain confidence to meet the challenge of the German blitzkrieg
On a disc of golden orange 2 13/16 inches in diameter, a full faced cougar's face in black with markings in red, eyes, whiskers, and teeth in white, crunching a black tank with wheels of golden orange, all within a black border 3/32 of a inch in width.
O.Q.M.G. Nov. 5, 1942
Arthur E. Du Bois
A turning point in the future role of the Tank Destroyers occurred at the Remagen Bridgehead on March 7, 1945. The M26 Pershing Tank Platoon, 14th Tank Bn, 9th Armored Division, armed with the 90MM gun, burst into combat action. A group of high ranking general officers, including General Patton, had been advocating the abolishment of the Tank Destroyer Force as far back as 1943. The main argument was that the Tank Destroyer Force had not accomplished the mission of massing to defeat the German panzers, except at the Battle of El Guettar, Tunisia when the 899th TD Bn joined the 601St TD Bn and stopped Gen Rommels 10th Panzer Division.
The Germans failed to mount a blitzkrieg due to the heavy tank losses in Russia and Allied control of the air space over the battle field, until the Battle of the Bulge. Hitler assembled 2,100 tanks and assault guns for the Ardennes blitzkrieg. The 25 Tank Destroyer Battalions were too spread out over the 80-mile front to mass according to Tank Destroyer doctrine of defense of the blitzkrieg.
The demilitarization of the Tank Destroyer Battalions began in the fall of 1945, without fanfare. Tank Destroyers were no more.
I'm an NCO in the USAF (deployed to Iraq) and wanted to pass on a few hints for those family members who's soldiers, airmen, marines, seamen will be rotating out of the AOR as the major rotation has started. This time of transition will not be picture perfect or easy for most, as everyone over here changes a bit, as they have to. If you could pass these homecoming tips on, I'd appreciate it.
First of all, don't push your loved one for information. If they want to talk about it, they will, if not, they won't. Some things are hard to talk about and some things are not to be talked about. You can ask questions, but don't push. If they say they don't want to talk about it, leave it at that. They have probably seen some things they'll never forget that they probably rather wish they could. There are also things they are not allowed to talk about.
Next, expect him or her to have changed. Necessity forces it... they will not be exactly as they were when they left. They've had a rough time and the most recent part of their lives have been filled with more than they could probably describe.
Watch their intake of beer, wine, etc... Most have not drank anything in several months (if not over a year) and their tolerance is not what they think it is, it's ALOT lower. Many will try to keep up with everyone else or think they can still "handle it". It doesn't work that way.
Don't be surprised if they are quieter than normal. Don't worry about it unless it's excessive. Alot of people can't explain it but it's been a long time since they've been around anyone but other military members. They're not used to being touched and not used to being very close to someone. Don't be afraid to show them you love them, but make sure you don't over do it.
Finally, don't overwhelm them with everything at once... You should know if they are getting overloaded. These guys are coming back from a completely different world into what is normal for you. There are so many things taken for granted, that they've had to deal without. There are no shopping malls, there are no 25 isle department stores, there are no convenience shops, there are major choices... Many things will seem brand new to them as they've not seen it in so long. Give them time to adjust to the "Culture Shock".
Finally, don't forget to tell them that you love them and you're happy that they are home. Those words can mean so much to them. Many expect grand welcomings and many have no idea what to expect. Some expect everything to be just as they left it and things won't be. Things have changed in the time that you've been gone.
Homecoming is the event they've waited all this time for. It is seldom what they expect. Give them time and give them room when they need it. On the same note, there will be times when they want lots of attention, be sure to share it with them.
Boeing B204L (1929)
Apparently, according to LPS the fracas was initiated by those who were not loyal supporters of LPS athletics and were here just to cause trouble. It'll be interesting to see where everyone goes from there.
Weather's been nice here in SW Oklahoma. Temps in the lower 50's.
I wondered, why didn't they just use tanks to destroy tanks? Now I see I wasn't alone in my questioning and yet I can understand what the theory was. TD's were faster, just get there and kill!
After reading this I can imagine the controversy and arguments that must have carried on throughout the war behind the scenes regarding the concept. You had the vulnerability and the resulting losses (...with an estimated sacrifice of 5,000 Tank Destroyer Men killed in action) while at the same time the job was getting done.
Thank you Sam, this was very interesting and educational!
Start with them one at a time....
Sgt. Dwight A. Hieke
(Lt. Col. Charles W. GOODWIN), in September 1944 operating as an organic unit of 113th Cavalry Group (Mechanized).
STATEMENT NUMBER ONE - Sgt. Dwight A. HIEKE was born in Sioux City on 5 March 1918. He joined the army from Nebraska. His name is listed on the 'Tablet of the Missing' at the Henri- Chapelle (Belgium) American Cemetery and Memorial. Coming from the beaches of Normandy, where they had landed almost three months earlier, - on 3 September 1944 803rd TD Bn entered Belgium, a country they had never heard of. On 4 September 1944, "C" Company under the command of Cpt. Robert F. SINCLAIR, a Company of which HIEKE was a member, was attached to 113th Cavalry Group (Mechanized). HIEKE, together with Cpl. Joseph E. KITTO (+ Hasselt), was the only M- 10 Tank Destroyer casualty (WD serial number not available) on 7 September 1944. "Sergeant HIEKE was the commander of the vehicle. The company was moving in convoi with 113th Cavalry Reconnaissance Group in an easterly direction towards the town of St. Truiden. The forward elements of the convoy consisting of light tanks had proceeded into the town but when the first M-10' s got within 300 yards, they were placed under fire by a self- propelled enemy 7,5cm (75mm) gun. Two M-10' s were hit and burned. When the enemy gun was silenced and the company prepared, Sergeant HIEKE could not be located. A report from 803rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, dated 11 June 1945 states that the vehicle was searched and remains were found, however they were completely burned except for four vertebrae, six ribs and other small bone splinters. The bones powdered when touched. No remains were evacuated. The vehicle was removed approximately three weeks after fighting had ceased in that area. It is believed that Sergeant HIEKE was killed in his tank destroyer and his remains completely cremated by fire." (Lt. Col. E. D. MULVANITY, CMC).
STATMENT NUMBER TWO - "Sergeant Dwight A. HIEKE, ASN 37153412, was a commander of a M-10 Tank Destroyer of the 1st platoon of Company "C" 803rd Tank Destroyer Battalion. The company was moving in convoy with the 113th Cavalry Reconnaissance Group in an easterly direction towards the town of St. Truiden, Belgium on 7 September 1944. The forward elements of the convoy consisting in light tanks, M-8' s and 1/ 4 tons ('jeeps') had proceeded into the town, but when the first M-10' s got within 300 yards of the town, they were placed under fire by an enemy self- propelled 7,5cm (75mm) gun. Two M-10' s and three 1/ 4 tons were hit and burned. As soon as the vehicles were hit, disabled personnel scattered in all directions, taking cover. When the enemy gun was silenced and the Company prepared to proceed, Sergeant HIEKE could not be located and has not been seen ever since. The undersigned has made a close inspection of the burned vehicles and found definite signs of someone having burned in one of the tanks. However, there was nothing upon which identity could be established. Some of the members of Sergeant HIEKE' s crew, believe that he got out of the tank, while others state that they do not know. The above is an accumulation of information gathered from interviews with enlisted men and officers of Company "C" and personal investigation of the vehicle." (Richard P. PETERSON, WCJG, USA, Personnel Officer).
STATEMENT NUMBER THREE - "201- HIEKE Dwight A. (Enl.) 2nd Ind. Headquarters, 803rd Tank Destroyer Bn, APO 230, US Army, 11 June 1945, To Commanding General, 5th Infantry Division, APO 5, US Army. No isolated burial was made in this case. and in compliance with paragraph 2b, basic communication, the following information is submitted. (1) Death occurred on main highway leading into St. Truiden, from the west, 300 yards from the first buildings at entrance to town (UTM co- ordinates = 180 491) ; (2) no other enlisted men or officers were killed in that vicinity (except Cpl. Joseph E. KITTO in Hasselt) ; (3) Remains were completely burned except for four vertebrae, six ribs, and other small bone splinters that were burned to the point where they powdered when touched. True statement of the undersigned who made the investigation following the incident, is attached ; (4) No remains evacuated ; (5) Killed in a M-10 Tank Destroyer of which WD serial number is not available ; (6) Following are names of crew members, Sgt. Dwight A. HIEKE, ASN 37153412, Tank Commander, KIA ; Cpl. Jack S. CAMPBELL, ASN 34601579, Gunner Duty ; Tec. 4 Ruben B. GREEN, ASN 37152842, Driver Duty ; Pfc. Justin B. PATTERSON, ASN 3439175, Driver Duty ; Sgt. Dale F. LEACH, ASN 37153406, Loader Duty ; 1st Lt. Keith D. BEVERAGE, ASN 0-1018515, Platoon leader ; All evacuated 7 October 1944 for battle exhaustion. (...)." (For the Commanding Officer, Richard P. PETERSON, CWO, USA, Personnel Officer).
STATEMENT NUMBER FOUR - "Belgium 3 2890, 2nd Ind, AMB / jc, Headquarters 603 QM Graves Registration Company, AGRC, APO 776, US Army, 1st April 1946, To : Commanding Officer 531 Group AGRC, APO 776, US Army, - (1) Basic communication complied with ; (2) Extensive investigation reveals that vehicle containing body of subject deceased was removed of the vicinity of St. Truiden, approximately three weeks after fighting ceased in that area. Apparently the body was never removed from the vehicle before it was evacuated. (3) This unit is unable to ascertain what unit performed the evacuation, nor to where it was taken." (For the Commanding Officer, Alfred H. BENNICK, 2nd Lt. QMC).
-"They shall not grow old as we who are left to grow old. Time will not weary them, nor age condemn. And at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them."
To those who gave "their all" the Honor and Glory is theirs.
They heard our country's call. They went forth and counted not their own life dear, but offered it gladly in humanity's name -- for God and for the right.
The greatest war in the history of the world closed August 14, 1945, when the warring nations laid down their arms. The Germans, Japanese, and all their allies lay prostrate, defeated. They who knew no mercy and who had violated every law of humanity and civilization,
THEY BEGGED FOR MERCY. THE VICTORY WAS OURS!
Sgt. Dwight A. Hieke is a part of that history of keeping this nation free.
God Bless America
I'm pretty sure Sam has a thread coming up on Audie!
Good morning Archy.
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