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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jungle Tanking: The Sherman Did Just Fine As A Jungle Killing Machine
Conventional wisdom often states, Jungles are no place for tanks, but that wisdom is wrong. It is very difficult to operate a tank in the jungle, that is true, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In many cases it requires the close work of heavy engineers and their bulldozers. In at least one case engineers had to put in a corduroy log road to get the tanks up to the fight when the Marines used them on Cape Gloucester. When a tank can be brought up though, when used correctly, it was a very useful tool in destroying enemy bunkers and strong points that could not be flanked.
Tanks have to be used in a different way than they would in just about any other terrain when fighting in the jungle, and more so than any other terrain, are dependent on their infantry support to protect them and be their eyes. They also cannot be employed in large numbers, fighting in the jungle is a very up close and personal affair, and from two to six tanks are all that are needed or can really be employed. In most cases it will only be two or three, because most jungle fighting is limited to certain paths due to terrain restrictions. If the area was wide enough, a tank was only behind a bulldozer in off road ability, but large trees and rocks will stop any tank.
The Tank could be useful for clearing some of the jungle terrain, through the use of its machine guns, cannon with canister rounds or HE, and even its tracks. It would take a fairly large tree to stop a tank, the bigger the tank, the larger the tree would have to be, and the tracks are very good at tearing up underbrush. In some cases tanks were used to pull loaded trucks up roads normally impassible due to mud. They could be used to haul in supplies to troops and in some special cases used to retrieve wounded troops pinned down by enemy fire, by driving over them and pulling the wounding in through the bottom escape hatch.
To successfully employ tanks a thorough recon of the area the tanks are going to operate in was needed. A specific set of objectives, preferably, ones that could be seen from the jumping off point were needed to effectively use tanks, or they just got in the way. With established objectives, specific infantry squads would be assigned to work directly with individual tank, to baby sit it and keep enemy infantry away. The platoon leader would be encouraged to either ride on the tank his men were protecting, or stay very close to it so he could talk to the tank commander. The tanks would hold back with their protecting infantry, until the leading grunts made contact, then as needed they would move slowly forward and engage targets pointed out by the grunts. Moving slow and staying with the men protecting the tank was very important, if they fell behind or got run off by flanking fire, the tank became very vulnerable to close infantry attack. This is why the platoon leader staying close to the tank was important, so it could be told to start backing up the fire was too heavy. If an attack failed, the tanks were advised to never attack over the same path, especially if the Japanese had time to bring up AT guns or mines.
The pace of these attacks was purposely slow, they needed to make sure they were not bypassing an AT gun or tank killer team hiding in the brush. Various methods were used, from hand signals to tracers and smoke to designate targets to the tank. Smoke worked ok, but someone on the phone on the back of the tank telling the TC exactly where to look worked the best. Once the bullets were flying the tank crews buttoned up and would not open up until asked by the supporting Doughs, or the intense part of the fighting was over. Sometimes the tanks would need to be given a break in very hot weather, operating at low speed could cause overheating and vapor lock, and was hell on the crews too. In the tropical heat, the interior of an M4 was not a pleasant place to be.
Once the objectives were achieved for the day or the attacks were stopped, the tanks pulled back far enough behind the lines to refuel, repair and, rearm the tanks. They would also take out as many wounded men as they could carry on their way to the rear. In the morning they may haul extra ammo and other supplies forward to the units who held the line. Tanks, unless under the most dire circumstances were not used in the line at night, or used in night attacks. Tanks, blind enough during the day, are so blind at night they are a threat to everyone around them, friend or enemy in the jungle.
The Army and Marine learned a lot of lessons about employing tanks in Jungle terrain, they recorded and disseminated these lessons in the very interesting: Combat Lessons, The Rank And File, What They Are Doing and How They Are Doing it. This was a series of nine, 50 to 90 page pamphlets, put out by the DOD and sent out to all the troops I have 8 of the 9 hosted in the downloads section, and they are all interesting reads, they do not cover Armor exclusively, or even in every issue, but they are still a very interesting look at how the US Army and Marines worked during WWII. When the Sherman was employed using the lesson the Army and Marines learned on the job, they proved to be a crushing and very hard to deal with part of the Allied Arsenal in use against them. The Japanese really had few options in dealing with a Sherman once it was in the fight, the rare 47mm AT gun, hard to employ in heavy jungle, magnetic mines and suicide squads, and the occasional oddball tank trap were the only tools in their arsenal that could deal with the Sherman and none of these was as good as the basic Panzerfaust or German Pak 40 75mm AT gun. The Japanese tanks were so bad they are not worth mentioning in this section.
Tank Infantry Communication: That’s Right, Tanks, and Infantry radios Did Not Talk to Each Other!
M4 tanks, and US Armor in general couldn’t talk to the infantry they were tasked to support. When I first read about the communication problems between tankers, and the ‘doughs’ they were fighting with I was surprised. It’s hard to believe in today’s world; talking to people inside a vehicle right next to you would be a problem, like send a text right bro? Well not back in the forties, they did have two-way radios, but the technology used vacuum tubes, because transistors had not been invented, and they were not very reliable and had a limited number of radio frequencies they could talk on. They also had the problem that tank radios and infantry radios did not share frequencies or even band!
So Shermans would be sent to support Infantry, usually, a separate tank battalion would send a platoon over to regiment of infantry, often the battalion would be assigned to the same infantry division for a long period of time so they could get used to working with the same people. This helped, but in combat, they still had real communication problems, no matter how long they had worked together in training. This problem didn’t really come to the top until after D-Day when the Sherman was supporting infantry in the bocage country, and close cooperation was needed. A platoon could be broken down further to support smaller units as well, and it wasn’t unheard of for a single tank to support a company, though they really tried to at least keep tanks paired up.
Things would normally go well communication wise before the shooting started; at least the tank commander would be riding with his head stuck out; so he could talk to the infantry riding on his tank or walking around it. A savvy infantry officer may be up on the tank talking to the commander. Once the tank started taking enough fire for the crew to close those hatches, everything changed. No amount of yelling or even banging on the tank would get the crews attention. Since the tanks and infantry were not on the same radio nets, if they wanted to get orders to the tank through the radio, they had to radio up to battalion or regiment level, get someone to find the tank battalion commander or someone who could talk to the tank on the radio, and then hope, they could get that actual tank on the net during the firefight. This did not work well. Often it took a man standing in front of the tank and waving his arms to get them to open up, this clearly was not an ideal solution either, and even when the commander did pop his head out, he had a very hard time hearing anything with his helmet on.
If the tank unit and infantry units got to train together and had been working together for a long time, this was less of a problem than a tank battalion assigned to a new infantry division with no combat time and little tank/infantry training. This lack of combination became a clear and prominent problem in the bocage fighting in Normandy when infantry wouldn’t be able to warn the tank they were working with of an imminent threat in a timely manner. The infantry would often be forced to fall back from the tanks leaving them alone, and easy targets for enemy infantry close assaults.
Various solutions were improvised in the field; they tried using the infantry’s handy talky from inside the tank, but the tanks electrical system caused too much interference. They also tried giving company level infantry headquarters spare tank radios, mounted to a backboard, but they were really too heavy to be practical, and not common enough to be all that useful. Some smart tanker figured out if you poked the handy talkie’s antennae out of the hatch, it worked, and that was the best solution for a little while. They also tried rigging up field telephones, with spools on the back of the tanks to let out the phone wire as they advanced, but the wire broke easily and restricted how the tank could move.
The best solution was worked out by Operation Cobra, and many tanks went into combat sporting it. The fix was mounting an EE-8 field telephone in a .30 caliber ammo box on the back of the tank. This phone was wired into the tanks intercom so anyone could walk up and say, “Hey! You blind Sonsobitches!! Shoot the machine gun nest over to the right, that house you’re shooting up is empty, you stupid bastards!!” or something to that effect. This, of course, could get the infantry guy, who wanted to talk to the tank shot, since he had to stand up behind the tank, but they still haven’t come up with something better, and M1A2 Abrams tanks are getting infantry phones installed on them now.
The Marines came up with this solution as well, but faster, since they used the M4 for much less time than the Army. They did come up with it around the same time as well, in July of 44. They found it essential for working in close with the fellow marines. The Japanese at this point was using man-powered shaped charges on a pole, or magnetic mines, and the tanks really depended on the infantry around them to be their eyes. Marine tanks operated buttoned up once the shooting started, without the phone, they were much less effective.
Sources: Armored Thunderbolt by Zaloga, Yeide’s TD and two separate tank battalion books, Sherman by Hunnicutt, 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, Son of a Sherman by Stansell and Laughlin, M4 Sherman tank at war by Green, the Lone Sentry,