Monthly Archives: May 2016

#57 Civilian Sherman Use: Hollywood, Loggers, Farmers and Frat Boys

 

Another shot of the restored VC, note how far apart the pair bogies are.
A restored VC, note how far apart the pair bogies are, this one with a museum in Europe.

Civilian Sherman Use: Hollywood, Loggers, Farmers, Museums and Frat Boys

Since the Sherman tank was produced in huge numbers, and the Army didn’t need that many, and even after taking the best for themselves, mothballing the best of the ones they didn’t for use as military aid to struggling allies, they still had a bunch of small hatch M4 tank of various types sitting around.  The US Government decided there might be a civilian market for the tanks and put them up for sale as surplus.

The M3 Lee in 1941
The M3 Lee in 1941

It was not just Sherman tanks that would go on sale after the war, actually before the war ended in the case of aircraft.  When the war ended the US Government was saddled with so much, now essentially useless, war material, in many cases they just left it to rot where it was sitting. They bulldozed the stuff into ditches or off cliffs, or dumped it into the ocean. That was the fate of most of the war material in the pacific theater.  There are heartbreaking photos of P-38 Lighting fighters bulldozed off a cliff in the Philippines.

wwii-p38-dump-area
This was the only photo I could find of the P-38 dump in the Philippines.

The war material, tanks, planes, trucks, tools, bulldozers, tug boats, etc. back in the United States would mostly be melted down for scrap,  thousands of B-17 and B-24 bombers, P-40s, P-38s, P-47s, you name it, if it flew, it was surplused after the war. Many airlines snapped up the transport planes and cargo planes, but just about all the fighters and bombers got scrapped. For about the price of a nice new car you could have owned any of the fighters, brand new, with full tanks of gas. Many fighters were bought up for use as air racers, or use as surveying aircraft, but at that point in time no one cared enough about them to consider preserving them, with exceptions for particularly historically significant aircraft.

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You could buy Shermans in running condition, with the gun DE milled, for about the price of a nice used car.  I do not think the Sherman was a hot seller, though a few civilians here and there bought them for the novelty. They did sell to some construction company’s here and there, other companies bought them up in droves, and all the other vehicles that used the Sherman powertrain, and began converting the hulls into specialized equipment used in construction, mining, and forestry. They also one in at least one case sold a Sherman to a college fraternity.

Traxxon-Tank-Drill

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Several companies, Finning, Traxxon, and Morpac made rocking drilling machines based on Sherman hulls, the whole upper hull being replaced by the drill and superstructure. Madill seems to have specialized in converting Sherman hulls into mobile ‘yarders’,  a central tower with winches, used to pull freshly cut trees up to an area to be further processed and loaded on trucks. These companies were mostly Canadian, and Morpac is still making heavy duty off road load carriers based on Sherman suspension components.

Sherman-dozer by vickers

Vickers used Sherman hulls and suspension to make heavy duty tractors for peanut farming in Africa.  These heavy tractors were to be used to clear land for the farms. They only used the suspension, final drives, differentials and tracks, the transmission was different and they used a large inline six for power.

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Some power companies used drilling machines based on the Sherman tank as well, but I am not sure if they are the same as the drills made by Finning and Traxxon.  In at least one other case a company named Abdo S Allen Co. used a Sherman tank they bought surplus in the 60s as a heavy duty building destroyer. They used the M4A3E8 Sherman, with no dozer blade or anything to knock down large swaths of houses in North West Oakland California in the late 60s.  They could be the only destruction company to figure out they could use a tank for demolishing light buildings.

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This is Agnes II, the Plane of Fame Museum at Chino California’s working M4A1. This tank looks like it’s in very good condition, and is an early small hatch tank.

In the 70s things began to change. Interest in World War II started to pick up, and that meant interest in the equipment, so museums for WWII equipment started becoming more popular.  The United States has always been interesting in aviation as a people. So WWII aviation was the first thing to really take off. It really started with surplus machines being used as air racers, and then many of the old racers, sitting around rotting, got bought up by men who wanted to own a WWII aircraft.  Some of these men founded things like the Confederate Air Force, or the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino.  These groups and many more keep aviation history alive by keeping the fantastic old flying machines in the air. It’s amazing that today, there is a larger variety of well restored and rare WWII aircraft flying than when I was a kid in the 70s.

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I can’t resist a chance to past Corsair porn. This is the Planes of Fame’s F4U-1A Corsair. They’ve had it for years and you can see the amazing Steve Hinton at the controls. This image is from www.warbirdsdepot.com

Hollywood made a few movies using somewhat correct airplanes, but most movies until 90s didn’t bother with accuracy in armor, and many of the big screen epics like, The Longest Day, the Battle of the bulge, and Patton, using more modern stand in tanks.  A Bridge To Far, broke the mold, and got a lot of running Shermans together, though many not exactly period correct.  Kelly’s Heroes was another oddball in that it used real Shermans as well, but their tiger was fake.

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A bunch of Sherman tanks gathered for the Movie, A Bridge To Far
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Jame Garner, on top of the M4A3 small hatch tank he is about to use to knock down a building, in the Movie ‘Tank’
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Train yard raid in Kelly’s Heroes

As interest in WWII continued to grow, all forms of equipment became popular, and there had already been a few tank guys out there that had a tank or two, or whole collections. Tank museums, most in the US anyway, are owned by the government, and the displays are largely gutted, welded closed near hulks, rusting away in an outdoor display area. It’s not uncommon in Europe for a tank museum to have several runners they bring out for events various times a year for crowd pleasing displays.  There are a few museums in the US not owned by the government that are doing this now too.  One, at least in the past, I don’t know if it still runs, was the Planes of Fame museum in Chino California, they had a running Sherman they show off at their airshow. The Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington, has a running M4A1 75 and a T-34-85 and do an event where they drive them around on May 30th! This weekend! Battlefield Vegas a huge shooting range in Las Vegas, has a large verity of Machine guns you can shoot and is resto modding a Sherman that they got off a target range.  The owner is planning on adding some more modern updates to it, for safety, reliability, and habitability in the Vegas heat. Since the tank was just about at the scrapping point, and I’m for A/C in everything, I see no problems with this at all.

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This is the later production M4A1 75 Sherman the Flying Heritage Collection operates, it’s newer model but still a small hatch tank. Note the extra armor on the turret cheek and over the hull ammo rack

There is also a large group of people, who like to reenact WWII battles, and they collect the vehicles as well, but tanks in this scene are rare. There are small private tank museums that use their tanks in local events like veteran days parades or local airshows. Tanks are a lot easier operate and cheaper to maintain than a WWII airplane, and that may be adding to their popularity and value with collectors as well.  Aircraft require all kinds of inspections and certifications, and you have to store them in hangers, and if you don’t fly them regularly they will rot away. Since they fly, not being on top of all the required maintenance might get you killed.

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privately owned and beautifully restored M4A1 76w

If your tank restoration project breaks down when your testing out the rebuilt Ford GAA,  you just fix it there, or have it towed back to your work area. It’s not going to fall out of the sky and possible kill you and other people. In both cases, to really work on it, you need some heavy equipment. You’re not pulling a turret, or motor (tank or plane), without a heavy duty hoist of some type, 10,000 pounds plus minimum, and that might not be enough to get a turret off.  Most tank motors the Sherman and other American WWII tanks used are pretty simple as internal combustion engines go, though the R975 radial would be pretty daunting to most car people, even it isn’t that complicated. In both cases they are thoroughly documented, but true experts on the motors who can overhaul them are few and far between, for both tank and aircraft motors.

M4105W
Privately owned M4 105

In the United States, it’s not all that hard, if you’re willing to pay the taxes and go through the government checks, to own a tank with a working canon.   Since the tanks were never sold by the government to civilians with working guns, the guns are often pieced together, with parts that don’t match, and this really takes the danger level of owning a tank to a new level.  Part of the added danger is the rounds can’t just be purchased, you have to find suitable used brass, not an easy task, and then hand load it with surplus or custom made projectiles and surplus powder. As dangerous as this can be, I’m all for allowing people to do what they want with the things they own, and having a working main gun on your Sherman is pretty damn cool.

Sherman M1 from the x littlefield collection2
An Isreali Sherman M1, that belonged to the largest private collection of Armor on the west coast. Until the owner died.

Now, these last few paragraphs have had a touch of tongue and cheek in them, owning a tank is a very expensive thing to do, and the bigger the tank the more money it will suck up each year, just less than an airplane.  A tank can’t fall out of the sky, but it is by no means safe, and doing any kind of work on it, or even climbing on and off of it, can cost you a finger or broken bones.  Putting an arm or hand in the wrong place while a turret is being rotated can get them messily removed. Falling off a tank while it’s moving is a bad way to die, but it happens.  It’s hard for people who have never worked with heavy equipment of any kind to realize just how dangerous 30 tons of steel is just sitting still.  That said, the people out there restoring WWII history, and keeping it running are awesome. Nothing beats seeing a Sherman tank moving around to really give you an idea of what the thing was all about. The Sherman people who go to the trouble to get the A57 in their M4A4 working are my automotive heroes!

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James Garner hauling ass in a M4A3 Sherman in the movie ‘Tank’

At some point in the 80s some producer or special effects place got their hands on a Sherman and it made appearances in shows like the A-team, Knight Rider and Airwolf. I suspect it was the same M4A3 used in the Movie ‘Tank’ with James Garner, and that is now owned by the Collings Foundation.  In more recent years, privately owned tanks, and some working museum vehicles were used in the making of the miniseries Band of Brothers on HBO. They don’t appear in many of the episodes, but they are in at least two. More recently the movie Fury was filmed using the tanks of the Bovington tank Museum in the UK. They also purchased an M4A4 hulk, and did a quickie ‘resto’ on it and made up a fiberglass turret that could be blown off, for the movies to often used ammo rack explosion.

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M4A2 used in Fury, before it was kitted out for the movie

 

Another thing tanks get used for in civilian life is in ‘Drive a tank’ places like, Ox Ranch in Texas, and driving a tank isn’t the only thing you can do there! Machine guns, Off roading, hunting, tanks, this is like heaven!

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OX Ranch’s M4A2 76w HVSS in action
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OX Ranch’s M4A2 76w HVSS in action

There are several other places in the US, and around the world like Drive a Tank in Minnesota and Battlefield Vegas, (Sherman in the works). You can pay for a package that often includes driving several kinds of vehicles leading up to the tank of your choice. They often offer add-ons like shooting machine guns or running over a car you supply, for various fees. The places that have a Sherman usually don’t use it in the car crushing displays; it’s usually a bigger tank like a British chieftain.

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M4 tank in front of a VFW

The final civilian Sherman type I want to mention is the kind you find in front of VFW halls, or town or state parks. The tanks in these cases are not actually civilian tanks. The Army still owns them more or less, so if the place they are in happens to close down or change, the town or VFW can’t sell the tank. The Army will come and get it, and they are supposedly responsible for keeping them up, but in reality, they are usually pretty rusty on the inside, and often have the floors starting to rust through.

 

Sources
  1. Warhistoryonline.com Civilian Shermans: After war they went to work 
  2. The Rusty Grapple: Logging History Online
  3. Yesterdays Tractor Co.
  4. Battlefield Vegas
  5. The Ox Ranch
  6.  Drive a tank

#56 Special Gallery 1: Shermans of the Fort Benning Digital Archive

Special Gallery 1: The Shermans and Lees of the Fort Bennings Digital Archive.

Fort Benning, a very active US Army base in Georgia has put up many very interesting historic Photo Galleries.  You can find the website here  The Gallery these Sherman photos came from is the Historic Photo Gallery.   These are just the Sherman and or Armor related images in the gallery, there are many more from Vietnam and Desert Storm.  

37TB 4AD tank gunner SEP 1944-X3
The tank is from the 37 TB, of the 4th AD. This caption says the man in the photo is the gunner,  September 1944, the tank is either an M4 105, or an M4A3 105, from the location of the M2, I’m going to say, M4.
M4 Medium in Korea
This is an M4A3 76 HVSS tank in Korea, by this point, the water jackets on the hull ammo rack would not be in use. One hint it’s a post WWII Sherman is the first aid kit mounted on the side of the tank. I can’t make out the markings it looks like 7-32-1 on the co drivers side of the differential housing, and a triangle 13 on the other side.
10AD training 1943-X3
10th AD training in 1943, the tank is an M4.
22--Tank Maint in Bel SEP44-X3
A tank crew cleaning the tube, in Belgium 1944, the curved hull corners say M4A1 to me.
10--3d army maneuver maint-X3
An M2 Medium having some heavy duty field repair work done. 
WIA Evacuation w tanks
The photo caption says WIAs evacuated via tank, and it looks like Korea. The tanks are M4A3 76 HVSS tanks
19--M3Med-NATO-X3
Most of a M3 Lee crew getting ready for some chow in North Africa
20--1AD in Italy-X3
This is a really interesting picture, the tank is an M4A1, it has small hatches, but has the improved, no DV port casting. The tank is with the 1st AD, somewhere in Italy. Note all the mud, the blanket draped over the commanders hatch, it was probably rainy and humid.
24--761ST TB-X3
Men of the 761st TB clean their M1919 machine guns in front of their M5 lights.
2AD tank in Bel DEC44-X3
This is an M4 with the 2nd AD in Belgium December of 1944, it looks like it has all the quick fix upgrades.
66AR 2AD crossing obstacle SEP44-X3
An M4 composite hull, with the 66AR of the 2nd AD, crossing small gully on a very rickety looking bridge in September of 1944
1AD tank crew NATO NOV 42-X3
1st AD M3 Lee crew somewhere in North Africa, November of 1942, man, do these guys look dirty or what?
Armor in Brittany AUG44-1834x1007
A US Army M4A3 in Brittany, August of 1944
1AD column in Italy-X3
A platoon of M4 tanks in Italy, with the 1st AD.I wonder if they planned to try and climb that hill… Probably not. 
M5 in ETO
An M5 light somewhere in the ETO
Tank-inf team
This photo is labeled ‘tank infantry team’, the tank is an M4, and it’s probably somewhere in the ETO.
1AD elements near Anzio-X3
1st AD M4A1 tanks near Anzio, note all the storage on the back deck, a large tarp and a big bundle of camo netting. 
Tank-Inf team in town
This image is labeled Tank Infantry Team in town, the tank is an M4A3 76w HVSS tank, and it’s somewhere in the ETO, probably Germany, in 45.
Tank-inf at Bougainville MAR44-X3
This one is labeled Tank Infantry Team Bougainville 1944, and the tank is the famous Lucky Legs II. I think I have more info about this tank and it’s battalion here somewhere. More info from Belisarius, ‘An M4 Sherman named ‘Lucky Legs II’ of 754th Tank Battalion leads the attack with infantrymen following close behind with fixed bayonets on the perimeter of the 129th Infantry, 37th Division, Bougainville (Papua New Guinea, in the Solomon Sea). 16th of March 1944.
5--M8 HMC training 1943 (Armor)-X3
An M4 HMC, or Howitzer Motor Carriage.

#55 City Tanking: The Tank Infantry Team in Cities and Towns

City Tanking: The Tank Infantry Team in Cities and Towns

Tanks and cities do not like to mix, but when your job is to support the dough on the ground, when they goes into the city, so do the tanks.  So when your Armored Division if ordered to attack into an urban area, or the infantry division you’re supporting as a separate tank battalion goes into a city, so do your Shermans. When you really think about it, it’s a lot safer in a tank in an urban environment than for infantrymen, since they face all the same threats, but the tank has armor…

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An Easy 8 in France, in a town, in action 

All the hiding places, and areas tanks can’t see or reach is what makes a town or city far more dangerous to armor. More than forest or jungle, the city gives the enemy infantry so many good places to hide, the already nearly blind tank is at just about as big a disadvantage as it could be at, and they only have firepower to use to thwart it, and at times the firepower was restricted. The clever US Army soldiers came up with solutions for this, like every other problem they encountered during the war.

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Heavy rain coming down on doughs, on an M10A1 in a city

The main threats to a tank in an urban environment are enemy grunts with TD weapons like the Panzerfaust or Panzerschreck, or even just grenades and improvised explosives.   Anti-tank guns would also still be a serious threat, but they are harder to hide in a city, but if they can be emplaced in the right kind of building, a stone, heavily constructed one, or area in the city that could cover many roads, like a hilly, mid-city park they can make a very tough strong point. In Europe, there are a lot of heavily constructed buildings too, but also large numbers of wood buildings a Sherman could bring down with ease, as long as it didn’t have a basement. If the defenders of the city have time to figure out all the good site lines and emplace things in ideal spots if they know a fight is coming, they can really make a city into a fortress.

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I threw this one in to show German tanks had all the same issues in urban areas that the Sherman did.

The defenders of a town or city have a big advantage in setting up their defenses. First off, they know the layout of the city; they would not just have maps or aerial photos to rely on. They can also blow up buildings and create roadblocks to channel attacks.  When they set their city defenses up correctly they can setup roadblocks, covered machine guns, or even AT or infantry guns, which could not be engaged by the attackers behind the roadblock because of buildings and other obstructions.  Another advantage the defenders would be sure use would be pre ranging in their artillery and having it ready to drop right on key areas. If the town had any castles or other historic, large stone buildings, these would be troublesome hard points and in some cases bigger than the Shermans cannon could deal with.

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Brit Shermans moving through an urban area

Another big threat to everyone was the sniper. A hell of a lot of tank commanders, infantry sergeants and officers got offed by German snipers. Its well know, in the ETO, MTO and north Africa, most America tank commanders fought un-buttoned, making them prime targets.  It takes a ballsy sniper to take on a tank, because if they miss and the commander spots them, he’s going to respond in one of three ways.  By shooting at him with the tanks co-ax, by shooting him with the .50, or most likely off all, the 75mm with an HE round or WP round. Or all of the above and it takes even more guts to try and shoot a panzerfaust or Panzerschreck, and they get all of the above for sure.

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771st Tank Battalion M4A3 76w tanks move through a town

All these things that make city fighting deadly for tanks make it absolute murder for the foot soldier.  In a tank you have armor, and if done right, a lot of men outside your tank there with the sole duty of defending it.  Including a dough sergeant riding on your back deck talking to your commander and when the shit hits the fan, the commander buttons up and the sergeant gets on the phone at the rear of the tank, and tells the commander what stuff to shoot. The key here though is they are outside, and the only cover they’ll have is the buildings around the tank, or the tank.  Far more doughs died in every engagement than tankers, and even more would die without the tanks around.

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An M10 in a town

The proper way to use armor in the attack on a town, or city, was to start by offering to let them surrender. If they didn’t, depending on the politics around keeping the village intact, they may or may not shell the hell out of it before attacking. In many cases, the Nazi scum were occupying buildings in towns of countries they conquered and couldn’t care less if the places were wrecked and the town’s people killed, when they were forced out. The Allies cared to some degree, but only so much, and if the Germans put up a really stiff fight, some big divisional artillery would probably be called in.

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A bunch of 5th Army tanks in a town

The next step in any case would be for the infantry doughs to move out. They move into the town ahead of the tanks, and will take the buildings on either side of the roads the tanks will be forced to work on, before the tanks move up. If there is resistance in the first buildings, the tanks will be in view of them, and help support the infantry with direct fire. Once the buildings were secure, the tanks would move up, and the doughs would begin to attack the next set of buildings, that the Shermans would now be close enough to fire into.  If the first buildings are tough, the tanks may move up a little to support the infantry pulling back.

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6th AD M4 knocked out in a Belgian town

Once the attacking force had penetrated into the town or city, they have to be ever watchful of the German counter attack, that the Nazi forces, who knew the places they were just forced out of well, would attack, and try and cut off the tanks, sometimes using clever routes the allied forces might not know about. If they succeeded the tanks were in trouble, because the infantry could attack them from several directions at once, and while the turret was facing one way, walk right up and place a charge a weak spot and blow the tank up. They key here would be if the US line was getting weak for the tanks to pull back with the doughs, shooting the hell out of the buildings as they backed out.

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a 10th AD Easy 8 in Rosswalden

Most of the time pulling back wouldn’t be needed, the Sherman tank when supported properly, could make short work of all but the most massive buildings. The 75mm guns 1.5 pound TNT HE round would make short would of wood buildings, and WP smoke would fill it with smoke and set it on fire. For harder buildings, constructed of things like brick or stone, they may have to punch a few holes with AP before sending HE rounds in through the same holes. Plus the Sherman has two medium machine guns, and the turret .50 manned by a dough adding to the firepower.  For anything really stubborn, they could bring in the 105 Sherman with its 6 pound HE charge.  We also know Shermans, even when working with independent tank battalions tried to at least operate in pairs.

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14AD M4A3 76W in an urban setting

Even using the best tactics, tanks were lost, and many doughs went down, and while in allied countries, re taking ravished and conquered lands, restraint was encouraged and often shown. This was not the case in Germany and other pro-Nazi countries. Once in the lands of the enemy, and after seeing concentration and death camps most allied troops were unwilling to show restraint when the Nazis decided to make things hard and use a town as a strong point. Burning a whole town flat wasn’t out of the question if the Nazis fought hard, or the population helped much.

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A pair of up armored M4A3 tanks in Arnoldsweiler Germany

In some crowds, it is popular to decry the treatment the German people got by the Allies when the tied had turned and it was clear Nazi Germany was done for.  I’m not going to knock the good guys for being harsh to the Germans, soldier, criminal SS or civilian, I didn’t have to fight against the most evil regime in modern human history, and see the evil shit they did first hand, and am more than willing to accept they felt some Nazis, no matter their age, sex or type, deserved no mercy.  The Nazi regime showed no mercy for the 6 million Jews, and 6 million other undesirables, after robbing them of everything including their hair, before murdering them in the death camps.  They killed tens of millions of Russian civilians, and raped so much, they planted that seed in the Russians. The Nazi German regime raped, murdered and robbed its way across Europe, they are lucky mankind had come far enough to not imprison every living adult German make or worse. This site will never support Nazi propaganda, myths, lies or popularize war criminals like many other websites on the internet.

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A pair of 3rd AD M4A1 tanks in Schevenhutte

. . .

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Several M4 and M4A1 parked in a town

There was also something called the tank raid, but it fell out of favor pretty early on, and depended on the enemy having no idea you were coming.  This was basically a commando raid with tanks; they break through in lightly defended area, and romp and stomp and then move on, before much resistance can build.

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A large photo of an M4 moving into an heavily damaged urban area.

Using these tactics, the tanks, and any infantry riding them, could do a lot of damage to a unit that was capable of knocking them out, and running away before they got the chance, AA units, any kind of artillery really. If you can think of a unit that would be behind the lines, but somewhat close, your tank raid could come and ruin their night or early morning, or late evening.  On a big scale, this is what the Armored Divisions were envisioned doing, but rarely got the chance to do.

1st_armored_division_M4_sherman_in_piazza_del_duoma_Milan_Italy_1945
Milan Italy

The big danger  is in staying in one place long enough for a strong response to be formed,  moving out into a unit that knew you were coming and has armor or anti-tank guns, or getting cut off an hunted down. Other problems are tanks breaking down, and getting lost, and not having enough space for everyone on the working vehicles. So for these to work they had to have limited objectives, a way in and out, and enough good intelligence on the area to know the areas to avoid that could kill your tanks.  That’s a serious list of problems to overcome to make this work, and when tried, even in the Pacific, it usually resulted in a lot of lost tanks and dead or captured tankers and doughs.

A whole tank company or more parked in a square.
A whole tank company or more parked in a square. Huge very detailed photo

The train yard scene in the movie Kelly’s Heroes is a decent example of this, as far as movies go. This could also happen on accident when things were unsettled during a large attack, parts of units trying to get back to friendly lines could run into supply units trying to find the attackers and fights could take place.  There were cases were tanks were sent into urban areas by infantry officers who had no idea how to properly use tanks, but this went badly most of the time.  On occasion TDs were asked to fill in for tanks in the infantry support role, but this was a harder job for them since they had open top turrets, less armor and fewer machine guns.

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IC Firefly in a town in Normandy

Sources: Combat Lessons, The Rank and file, what they do and how they are doing it 1-7, and 9. Oscar Gilbert’s, Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific, Harry Yeide’s, two Tank Battalion books, and his TD book. Zaloga’s Armored Thunderbolt, and Armored Attack.