This extremely readable addition to the Landpower Library tells the story
World War I, their development between the two wars, of early tanks in
their gradual incorporation into larger role of armored warfare
during and after World War II. Written by a combat veteran, the
book traces in detail the concept of the early tank as an armored vehicle during the early years of this century and follows it through to the sophisticated armor employed by modern armies today. Tank development was hastened in World War I when, on the Western Front, the combatants had become bogged down in trench warfare, and frontal attacks by manpower and artillery alone had to be abandoned because of the great loss of life. Credited with the original proposal for a powerful vehicle with caterpillar tracks
which could traverse
trenches and barbed wire was Lt. Col. Ernest D. Swinton of the Royal Engineers,
Famous tank described
actions are movingly
surprise attack at
in 1917; the Nazis'
armor in Poland and France; the duels between Rommel and the Allies in the North African desert; Patton's of
slashing victories into enemy-held territory in 1944-5,
and many more.
358. 18 Gary Gary, James,
^Tanks and armor mill iirnfT
3 1111 00399 5741
DATE DUE APR
1 2 1991
^EP0 3WT JU
Gary Tanks and armor in modern warfare
Marin County Free Library Civic Center Adftiinistration
San Rafail, California
Tanks and Armor in
THE WATTS LAND POWER LIBRARY
Tanks and Armor in
Modern Warfare by James Gary
Franklin Watts, Inc.
575 Lexington Avenue New York, N.Y. 10022
Administration Building Civic Center San Rafael, California
To my son and the gallant men with
of the 712th
served in World
FIRST PRINTING 1966 by Franklin Watts, Inc. Copyright Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 66-18507 Printed in the United States of America
The car sped along the dusty French road. In erect young officer. He had a handsome face, served and cultured. nose. His
the back seat sat an typically British, re-
under his sharply cut Bushy eyebrows shielded
a short, sharp line.
deep-set eyes with a faraway look, for Lieutenant Colonel Ernest
Dunlop Swinton was deep
He shook was
his head, trying to clear his
same terrible scene again. He could not get it out of his Day and night it was with him, like a motion picture
played over and over in his brain.
just as clearly
happened several weeks before. He had been in the frontline trenches that morning An early morning mist clung to the ground. Columns of British soldiers pushed past him, jamming into the most forward of the freshly dug entrenchments. Their grim faces formed a sea of white splotches framed under helmets rakishly tilted over one eye. Below the faces, grimy hands clasped the tips of bayoneted guns butted as he
into the ground.
were on a British officer. He was poised like a statue, right arm raised, eyes glued on his watch. Suddenly the arm dropped. The whistle between his lips shrilled one piercing blast. It was quickly blotted out by the roar of thousands of voices. !" "Let's go Get 'em The shout rang out across the front as the men plunged up and over the top of the trench and spread out in a long, advancing line. The first wave plodded forward, rifles held diagonally across the front of each soldier's body in the position of "high port." Behind them more lines popped out of the trenches and followed at regular All eyes
Tanks and Armor
up quickly and the first incoming rounds from German fieldpieces began to shriek down out of the sky. Men dropped here and there but the attack went well for a short time. Then, out of the slowly clearing mist loomed a low barbed-wire rattle of gunfire built
and then more and more fences a whole jungle of fences. The first wave surged up and began to break apart in confusion on the barrier. Where were the openings the artillery was supposed to have made? How would they get through? Now a new sound was added to the rising din of battle something besides the crack of German rifles and the scream of descending artillery. It came in stuttering bursts, Hke a thousand rifles firing one after the other. Long fiery streaks of tracer bullets spurted across the battlefield. The Germans had opened up with their machine fence,
The British went down like grain cut by a scythe, their bloody hands clutching at the wire. The second wave surged up, and again the hammering of the machine guns sHced through their line and draped bodies, hke broken sacks of grain, over the wire. Then the third wave, and the fourth.
German gunners grinned and
Spandau machine guns as the
patted the mounts
Swinton passed a hand over his eyes, trying to wipe away the on down the road. Trenches, barbed wire, machine guns and the grotesquely torn bodies left dangling on the strands somehow there had to be an answer to this a new method, a new weapon, something to overcome this deadly comvision as the car careened
Swinton had been struggling with the problem for days now. The first attack had been repeated several times, always with the same results the terrible harvest of bodies on the barbed wire. Yet somewhere deep inside his subconscious mind he knew there was an idea struggling to get out, something he had come across not too long ago that might have a bearing on the problem. He was headed back to England for a short visit and if he could only put together the basic outline of that idea before he got there perhaps he could interest the British High Command in some kind of action that would help stop the wholesale killing of British soldiers. pattern of that
The car lurched around a bend in the road and the lighthouse of came into sight in the distance. Spread before Swinton was the placid French countryside, still virtually unmarked in this area by the war that had erupted only a short time before. Cows grazed Calais
peacefully on the stubble left in harvested grainfields. trees, their foliage
etched dark against the sky, marched along the
ridgeline off to the right,
in the distance a
few farmhouses dotted
Suddenly Swinton lurched forward. He had it! That tractor a had told him about back in July, the month before the war started! What was it he had written? Swinton tried to recall the
The friend was Hugh F. Marriott, a mining engineer Swinton had met in South Africa during the Boer War. Marriott, who took a lively interest in military matters, wrote that he had come across an agricultural machine known as the Holt Caterpillar Tractor, built by an American Company. "This machine," he told Swinton, "has surprising powers of crossIt can traverse narrow trenches or holes in the ground and is so powerful it can drag a five-furrow plow set at maximum depth through marshy soil." He thought the British army might be interested in it for transportation purposes, but Swinton
ing rough country.
not build an armored casing around this machine, or one it with machine guns and cannon, and send it against the German entrenchments to flatten the enemy wire and wipe out his machine-gun nests? Would this work? If the tractor could really
do what Marriott said it would, it might very well be possible to modify the tractor and adapt it to a military purpose. What Swinton was suggesting here was not entirely new. In fact, the principle of armor and armored vehicles had been used for centuries. In one sense, the first prehistoric man who hid behind a log to protect himself from rocks thrown by his enemies was employing a principle of armor using another material to protect the human body. When the first shields were fashioned, this was a step further
could be carried wherever
designed to provide protection that
The process gained a further dimension when in conjunction with a sword, spear, or other
Now there were
Tanks and Armor
two elements involved protection that could be carried with you and a weapon to strike with. When one of these warriors finally mounted a horse, he had brought together in one combination the same three elements that are found in modern armored vehicles today portable protection, a weapon to strike with, and mobility. From that point on, the process that culminated in the powerful tanks of today took many forms. As early as two thousand years
before the birth of Christ,
tried to develop vehicles for
use used war chariots effectively. So did the Chinese in the twelfth century B.C., protecting them against missiles with a heavy covering of leather. The medieval knight in his suit of mail was a form of armor combined with the mobility of a horse. In 1456 the Scots invented a wooden cart that offered protection for its crew, but not the horse that was used to propel it. This was later changed to provide shields protecting the horse too. And then in 1482 the famous ItaUan genius Leonardo da Vinci designed a highly advanced armored vehicle and proposed some surprisingly modern suggestions for how it should be in warfare.
The Egyptians and
was shaped somewhat Uke
be powered by
a Chinese coolie's hat
turning by hand a shaft that would
transmit this motion to the wheels on which the entire assembly was mounted. Leonardo's efforts, like so many that followed, had the weakness of being based on either manpower or horsepower to
move them. But
there were also suggestions for using sails, hke those on seagoing vessels, to propel armored vehicles. It was not
French Revolution in 1789 that motivating force. The vehicle that resulted had a boiler in the center and a cannon on one side. It moved on a tri-
until just before the outbreak of the
tried as a
cycle type assembly with a big wheel in front
back. Whatever other weaknesses
and two wheels
had, including the fact that
could not be steered, this steam-spouting monster could and did
knock down almost any wall that happened to get in its way. Anwas designed in 1854 by a man named James Cowan, and the British used armored steam other steam-powered armored vehicle
tractors to haul supplies in the later stages of the Boer War in South Africa at the turn of the century. But steam engines were too cum-
bersome for armored purposes, and a vehicle
possible until the gasoline-powered internal-combus-
tion engine reached
an advanced stage of development in
— The Tank
What Swinton was proposing now was to carry all of these ideas much further. He wanted not only to combine armor with the many advantages of a gasoline-powered vehicle, but
move on revolving tracks. This would
have that vehicle
the ability to
ground that wheeled vehicles could never cross. He also wanted to equip the machine with cannon and machine guns and use it as a weapon of attack to overcome an immediate and crucial problem the machine gun, barbed wire, and trenches. It was the timeliness of his proposal, and the sharper focus Swinton gave the many older ideas that entered into
the plan so important.
Swinton knew he had found the answer. Aflame with the idea, he dashed on board ship as soon as he reached the port of Boulogne and waited impatiently for the vessel to lift anchor and steam across the Channel. It was October 19, 1914, a day he would always remember, for he was possessed of a concept that was destined to revolutionize warfare.
His brief voyage was uneventful, and the next day, with a great
from its horn and clanging of bells, the train bringing Swinton from his port of debarkation pulled into London. He hurried from his compartment into the busy streets of Great Britain's capital. The war was only eleven weeks old and had not yet scarred London. The bombing raids by German dirigibles and giant Gotha aircraft would come later. But there was a tenseness in the people, and an inability to understand how this terrible conflict had suddenly engulfed their lives. If a teacher had sat down with these people and tried to give each of them an oversimplified explanation, he might have said something Ike this: Europe in 1914 was composed of nations that were bitter rivals for dominance on the Europeon continent and for trade in world markets. Tension over these conflicting goals had been building up for years and finally erupted into open conflict on August 1, 1914, when Germany declared war on Russia. Two days later, on August 3, 1914, Germany declared war on France, and on August 4, 1914, invaded Belgium. Before that day ended. Great Britain declared war on Germany for violating Belgian neutrality. Thus began the terrible conflict known as World blast
The Germans were confident of a swift and brilliant victory. They had massed seven armies in a continuous fine along their borders with Belgium and France and had been preparing for a long time for the battles they
Their forces drove west into
Tanks and Armor in
Belgium, then wheeled south and on into France in a wide swinging movement, reaching out on the extreme right flank so that as they had been taught "the sleeve of the last man on the right" would
brush the English Channel. While this right, or western, flank moved rapidly and was by far the most powerful portion of the German forces, the German armies in the center of the line,
and on the left of the Hne, remained almost maneuver somewhat resembled a long
stationary, so that their
gate, hinged in the middle, with the right half of the gate swinging
through a wide arc while the other half remained in position. This plan of attack had been developed years before by Count Alfred von
German General Staff from 1891 to 1905. The Germans hoped by following SchhefFen's instructions to pin Schheffen, chief of the
the French and British in the center and on the left of their
main force raced down the Channel coast and then cut back in behind Paris, entrapping the enemy armies in an envelopment from which they could not escape. For a time it appeared that the plan was working, but the Ger-
front, while their
attacking force inland too soon, exposing
error as serious as a boxer
and French, but mainly the
the flank of one of their armies
leaving his jaw unguarded.
French, surged forward in a counteroffensive that has since to be
as the first Battle of the Marne.
Both sides dug entrenchments and strung barbed-wire entanglements in front of the trenches. Both tried desperately to break through the other's defenses, but each time the attacks faltered or were broken up after meager, indecisive advances. Each time the men were caught on their enemy's wire and slaughtered by deadly fire from machine guns in well-protected positions. And when they did get through one series of trenches and their protective entanglements, there was always more of the same in the rear. So the machine gun, barbed wire, and trenches the combination had introduced an entirely that was bothering Swinton so much new element in combat, removing any chance for fighting what is called a war of movement, for maneuvering troops around an enemy's flank to outsmart and destroy him. Clearly something had to be done if the war were ever to become anything more than a
series of hopeless
and bloody frontal assaults
already taken place.
Swinton hurried to his hotel, freshened up and went to the War Ministry. He had hopes of seeing Lord Horatio H. Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, but could not get an appointment. However, the next day he did get in to see Sir Maurice Hankey, the
Committe of Imperial Defense. Hankey was an intelhgent man. He listened intently as Swinton
secretary to the
eagerly told his story.
was showing increasing becoming what professional army men call a stalemate, or warfare," in which neither side can do much more than fighting in France, Swinton said,
signs of "siege
attempt to starve out the other, or waste his manpower in ineffectual frontal attacks.
Tanks and Armor in
The machine gun and barbed wire were
responsible for this, he and the solution could only be found in "a bulletproof, armed engine, capable of destroying machine guns, of crossing trenches, of breaking through entanglements, and of climbing earthworks," meaning the protective walls of dirt and sandbags piled up said,
much as four men behind
to five feet
high in front of trenches
to help protect
Swinton said his proposed armored vehicle, which he called "a machine-gun destroyer," would be able to cross such difficult terrain obstacles if it were mounted on a caterpillar track hke the one used on the Holt tractor. When Swinton finished, Hankey expressed interest in the idea and promised to discuss it with Kitchener as soon as possible. He also advised Swinton to pursue his suggestion with officials at GHQ (General Headquarters) of the British armies in France. Swinton returned to France in a few days and immediately sought out the Engineer in Chief at GHQ. Again he was hstened to politely
and received a promise that the proposal would be passed on to the War Office in London. Swinton knew he had failed, but he also knew he had planted two seeds. Maybe, in some way, one would grow and bear fruit later. As for Swinton himself, let us take a closer look at this remarkable man. Swinton had an amazingly fertile mind that was constantly developing new ideas; he also had a very unique job in France that permitted him to view the war from a special vantage point. He was what was knovvnn as an "official news correspondent." When Britain entered the war, France asked that no British civilian newsmen be allowed at the front. This was to reduce the danger of pubhshing information that might be of value to the enemy. To make up for this lack of news, Swinton, an engineer officer
done some writing, was made correspondent
provide accounts of the fighting in France for British
He became known as "Eyewitness" and his accounts of war were carried under that name. As he traveled around the front, gathering information for his news reports, he noticed many things and kept coming up with sound suggestions on how better to fight the war. He was one of the first to recommend using propaganda that is, words shaped and tailored to create dissatisfaction against German soldiers to weaken
— The Tank
He wrote German hnes by
their will to fight.
a propaganda handbill that
British aircraft. Propaganda has since become a standard part of every nation's activities during periods of armed conflict. Swinton was also one of the first to recognize the need for scattervehicles clustered around ing and masking that is, camouflaging
headquarters buildings or other important locations, since aircraft were now being used in combat and could spot such concentrations
and relay the information to artillery commanders. The British needed his warnings only after suffering a number of serious losses from pinpoint German artillery. Another Swinton idea was that British machine gunners be placed in large, covered steel tubes sunk deep in the ground. The gunners, he said, could scamper down a built-in ladder and take cover in the bottom of the tube during German artillery bombardments, then climb back up to man their weapons, firing through narrow slotlike openings when German troops advanced after the artillery lifted. This idea was very close to what later came to be
as the pillbox.
Swinton also proposed that an expert photographer, who had been attached to his office, be used to make an official pictorial record of the war. This would have been of great value to commanders in analyzing what went wrong with their operations. It also would have been invaluable to historians in future years. But GHQ was shocked by the idea, so Swinton turned the photographer over to the air force. In that service he promptly took over a major role in developing the new art of aerial photography in warfare now an essential part of the information-gathering activities of any army. With his mind now fixed on the question of how to overcome the machine gun and barbed wire, Swinton could draw on past experiences that had given him a head start in understanding the problem. For one thing, he had edited a handbook on the machine gun during the Boer War of 1899 to 1902 in South Africa. From his contacts during this enterprise, he had learned that the Germans had very early recognized the great importance of this new weapon. Information wheedled out of a talkative German officer by one of Swinton's friends indicated that
time was already
producing 38,000 machine guns at a plant in Spandau, Germany II
Tanks and Armor in
was twelve years before the outbreak of World War I. later he was assigned to write the official British history of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. And from accounts of that conffict, he became even more sure that the machine gun would become the dominating weapon in the next war. Having seen this come true, and being fully convinced that he had arrived at a simple and logical solution for overcoming the machine gun, it was no wonder Swinton was depressed and frustrated at making no progress in getting his "destroyer" into production. The war was growing more bitter every day. The Allied and German armies charged and countercharged. Their trench systems expanded and soon extended from the Channel to Switzerland. The cannon roared and the machine guns pounded out a steady beat of and
A few years
human flesh. Blood ran in the rivers the Meuse, the Somme, the Aisne, and the Oise. All of France was writhing in agony and death. So terrible was the slaughter that three months after the fighting began, the armed forces of Great Britain, France, and Russia had lost nearly one million men, a toll that has never been surpassed in so short a time. The generals of each side had still not realized the basic truth that lay behind Swinton's idea that infantry, the Queen of Battle, could not win this time without new weapons and tactics. Each of the top commanders thought that Mdth more artillery, more infantry, and more frontal assaults they would eventually crush the other's defenses. Hundreds of thousands of more men would die, ensnared in barbed wire, their bodies riddled with machine-gun bullets ripping into
bullets, before this delusion
finally destroyed for good.
But far away in England, at this moment of Swinton's deepest despair, a strange thing was happening. Perhaps there was hope after
hunched over his desk in the darkened cast by a desk lamp deepened the shadows
room. The pool of light that lurked around the edges of his features, now set in a fierce scowl. His teeth were clamped down hard on a long black cigar. There was a certain bulldog look to the man as his pen moved quickly over the paper in front of him. "My Dear Prime Minister," he wrote. "I entirely agree with Colonel Hankey's remarks on the subject of special mechanical de-
The Tank vices for taking trenches. It field
and the War
of warfare problems
extraordinary that the
have allowed nearly three months
without addressing their minds to
Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, a position roughly corresponding to Secretary of the Navy in the United States, was writing to Prime Minister Herbert H. Asquith. Churchill was destined to become a famous wartime prime minister himself at a
later date, but right now he was turning his gifted mind toward solving the British armed forces' problem of overcoming the
machine gun. Across the Channel in France, Swinton did not
Hankey had taken root in such strange soil the navy. But that is what had happened. Hankey, true to his promise to Swinton, had presented the idea for a machine-gun destroyer to Lord Kitchener; however, he had gotten nowhere. But he also incorporated the concept in a memorandum he submitted to Prime Minister Asquith on the deepening deadlock seed he had planted with Sir Maurice
with the true mark of the genius that he was, immediately understood its importance. Besides, it fitted into the pattern of what he had been trying to do on Churchill read this
own. The navy, as part of its responsibility for protecting Britain against aerial attack by the Germans, had established air bases at Dunkirk on the French coast. These bases were protected by armored-car squadrons equipped with vehicles that were not very satisfactory for crossing ditches and obstacles that got in their way. Churchill's concern over developing a better armored vehicle had already led him into experimenting with various new suggested forms of what he called 'landships." Now, having read Hankey's memorandum, he was adding his weight to the arguments for doing something quickly to restore mohis
bility to the
war in France. His letter
would be quite easy in a short time to fit up a number of steam tractors with small armored shelters in which men and machine guns could be placed, which would be bullet proof. Used at night they would not be affected by artillery fire to any extent. The caterpillar system would enable trenches to be crossed quite easily, and the weight of the machine would destroy all wire entanglements. "It
Tanks and Armor
'Torty or fifty of these engines, prepared secretly and brought into positions at nightfall, could advance quite certainly into the enemy's
away all the trenches with machine gun fire
obstructions and sweeping the
Churchill's suggestion for a steam-powered tractor, submitted January 5, 1915, proved impractical, but his letter did underscore the need for an armored, tracked vehicle to break through the German defenses, and thus it focused the attention of high British officials on Swinton's suggestions. Swinton, too, now took a decisive step to overcome the official
had greeted all his efforts up until this time. He also took pen in hand and submitted an official memorandum to GHQ. In explaining how his proposed machines should be used, he indifference that
said in part
destroyers are in position ready.
in front of the hostile trenches will be
The wire entanglebombarded and cut
is intended to take place. After attempted except occasional nothing will be night during the this, outbursts of rifle fire to prevent the Germans repairing their entanglements. At dawn ... at a given signal, the destroyers will
early in the night before the assault
they will travel across the intervening space straight for
they can tear their
way through any
has been possible beforehand to locate and mark
down machine-gun emplacements
front fines the
them, will climb over them, destroyers will be and will crush them. At other points they climb the enemy's parapet or trench and halting there will fire at any machine gun located with steered straight at
the 2-pounder guns and will enfilade the trenches with their
directly up] portions of
said, could follow as
soon as the
German lines. He continued "While our infantry are racing for the enemy's front line, the caterpillars will move on through the German defensive zone, shoot-
tanks reached the
selected for the first
they go. Those on the flanks of the section assault will turn right and left and proceed
along and behind the
ing right and
either side of the selected section to
zone, to enable our infantry
their 2-pounder guns will be reserved for the
German machine guns
The Tank which cannot be
rolled over, especially those in houses.
through the zone of trenches, the destroyers will proceed forward, backed up by and supporting the first wave of the assaulting infantry, which will be moving forward with them, and followed by the mass of troops forming the main body of the attack." The memorandum encountered some opposition from the GHQ engineering staff, but Swinton submitted an addition with written answers to all questions raised. By this time the British also had purchased a number of the Holt tractors to use in moving their heavy
and Swinton was able to overcome many of the doubts of the engineer officers by taking them into the field to watch the remarkable little machine perform. With this accomplished, his memorandum finally reached Sir John French, the British commander in France, who passed it on to the War Office in London with a recommendation that the project be pursued in secret with the proper manufacturers. The date was now June 22, 1915; eight precious months had slipped by and hundreds of thousands of lives had been lost since Swinton first suggested the development of a machine-gun destroyer, but he had finally won. His ''Eyewitness" assignment was quickly terminated and he was ordered back to England to be acting secretary to the War Committee of the Cabinet job in which he could help get the new "landship" project moving. Already a committee originated by Churchill was at work on the artillery pieces,
machine. It was little and set between two tractor treads that extended almost halfway up the sides. On the front a steel plate angled up from the bottom, meeting another plate that sloped back into the front face. Above this protrusion were two small openings through which the driver could look out and through
Swinton gazed doubtfully
more than a square
at the strange
steel box, riveted together
which weapons could presumably be
a steel cover
that could be lowered or raised.
Mr. E. H. T. d'Eyencourt, the director of naval construction and chairman of the Landship Committee, stood next to Swinton and looked equally doubtful. Other members of the committee were there too, along with employees of William Foster and Sons, who built the contrivance at the Foster plant in Lincoln, England. The workers' wives and families were lined up along a nearby fence to watch the
Tanks and Armor in
performance of "Little Willie," as this first machine, based on Swinton's ideas, had come to be known. Swinton gave the signal to begin. There was a grinding of metal on metal as Little Willie's motor was cranked. Finally a sputtering explosion burst from the engine, then a series of explosions and the motor roared into Hfe. Little Willie crawled forward slowly that September 19, 1915 the world's first tank, if it could be called that and quickly shed one of its tracks. The track was put back on and once again Little Willie was cranked up and started forward; then once again it shed a track. The test was considered a complete failure. This was not surprising. The machine had been developed as an experiment, before the specific tasks it would have to perform were laid down by the War Office. But the real surprise of the day was stiU to come. Swinton's group walked slowly from the field into a nearby building. The doors were closed tightly behind them. There in front of them was a much larger tracked machine. It was only an unfinished wooden model but a ripple of excitement ran through the group. This was something entirely new. In exterior shape it was as if someone had taken a large rectangular box and shoved the top forward while the bottom remained still, then had rounded off the four edges. In its physical shape it was what mathematicians called a rhomboid, but many people later noticed its similarity to a popular throat lozenge of the day and called it "lozenge shaped." Caterpillar tracks encircled the full height of the hull on both sides. The track sloped up slowly from the bottom to a point almost level with the top of the machine. Surely this track, with the great length of the machine, was the answer to the two basic requirements that had been laid down for a successful working model of a machine-gun destroyer: that it be able to climb the four and a half foot height of the parapet in front of an entrenchment, and then cross a trench
nine feet in width.
Swinton was deeply impressed and urged that
concentrated on producing an experimental sample of the machine.
Wilhe was soon to be forgotten, but the proposed new mawhich would eventually be known by many names, including "Big WiUie" and "Centipede," was destined for a major place in Little
Four months passed. Then, before dawn on January 26, 1916, i6
with a great clanking of tracks and explosive roar from its engine, the first working model of Big Willie rolled out of the Foster plant, clattered through the sleeping city of Lincoln to the railroad station, and crawled, grunting and snorting, up a ramp onto a railroad car
headed for Hatfield in Hertfordshire. There, on the private golf course of Lord Salisbury, the army had created what appeared to be a small piece of battlefield, lifted from France and set down in Britain. This was to be the testing ground to determine if Big WiUie would be able to perform under battlefield conditions. Representatives of WiUiam Foster and Sons were present and confident that their new clanking monster would pass every test. They knew that twenty days before, on January 6, "Willie" had been its motor rolled out into the yard of the Foster plant at Lincoln and it had crawled with ease over piles of pig iron and fired up other rough material. And on January 14 it had been driven under its own power to Poppleton's Field near the plant, where it successfully crossed ditches, broke through hedges, and lumbered around with no difficulty. A few days later, at midnight on January 19, it had been taken to nearby Burton Park where its 6-pounder naval guns and four machine guns were tested successfully for the first
time the next day.
was ready for the first official test. Driver Charfie Maughan hopped into the tank and soon had its engine thundering and spouting clouds of smoke. Slowly the motor settled down and Maughan throttled it back into a steady, powerful roar. Through a all
peephole he looked out confidently on the "battlefield" in front of
him. The signal to start was sounded and toward its first obstacle.
Up the front of a parapet four feet six inches high, Willie waddled with ease, scaling the equivalent of the front side of a German trench. Hanging there a moment, its nose reared against the sky, Willie slowly tilted forward and came down on the far side of a behind the parapet. The tracks churned and the tank crawled across without faltering. Its engine roaring, Willie continued on. Into a shell crater six feet deep and twelve feet wide the tank crawled, then clambered up the other side. Willie clanked through another shell hole with equal
Maughan then drove Wilhe through
a stream with soft
banks and up a slope toward a forest of barbed-wire entanglements. 17
Tanks and Armor
army thought only an intensive artillery bombardment enemy wire. Did a clattering, clanking piece of machinery have a chance of accomplishing the same thing? Willie did not hesitate. The tank pushed through the wire without even an extra engine snort, flattening it into the ground. If there had been the
behind they could have walked through with ease. was not through yet. Maughan sent the machine plowing through deep mud, then up and over a double breastwork five feet six inches high. Willie had done everything it had been built to accomplish. The test was over and Swinton was elated, but he soon learned his problems were not entirely solved. More tests followed. One was for Lord Kitchener who came to Hatfield to watch Willie do its tricks, this time including crossing a trench nine feet wide as wide as any in the increasingly formidable German defensive system in France. Enthusiasm boiled through the crowd after this performance but Kitchener remained unimpressed. soldiers
only a pretty mechanical toy that will soon be knocked out by
the enemy's artillery," he said.
This was a setback. Without Kitchener's approval there was Uttle chance of starting to produce tanks in large numbers, and of training crews to operate them. But the number of high officials who were impressed with the possibilities of Swinton's machine-gun destroyer grew steadily and on February 8 King George V added his voice to those of Willie's enthusiastic backers.
The King came
watched Willie run through the same had seen, and then himself took a ride in the tank. Unlike Kitchener, he was fuU of enthusiasm and said he felt that tanks used in large numbers could be a very valuto Hatfield,
obstacle course that Kitchener
help the infantry.
This tilted the weight of opinion heavily in favor of those wanting immediate production. Forty tanks were ordered, then the number was increased to one hundred, and a short time later it was upped again to one hundred and fifty. The tank had arrived. A call for volunteers was issued to obtain men who wanted to learn to fight in these new modern-day war chariots. A search for a proper training ground was begun, and those most closely associated with the project started studying the problem of how to go about creating the first armored force in the world's history.
The table was covered with maps. General Sir Douglas Haig, who had succeeded General French as commander of the British forces in France, marked in a symbol to designate the last unit to arrive in line. He nodded with satisfaction. The British army was ready at last. For two years the French had borne the burden of the heaviest fighting against the Germans, particularly in the Battle of the Marne, and again in beating off a mighty German offensive at Verdun. The French armies were exhausted. Now it was time for the British
Thousands of big guns had been wheeled into position: huge cannon measuring 12 inches across the inside width of the muzzle; lots of 9.2-inchers too, plus 8-inch guns and long-barreled 60pounders of great range and power. Behind the lines, supply dumps were jammed with food, gasoline, ammunition, uniforms, gas masks, rifles all the equipment needed by a modern army in battle. And the British trenches were filled with 600,000 well-trained men, backed up by ample reserves. All these things were in the back of Haig's mind as his eye moved across the map, tracing the irregular course of the Somme River that flowed through the general line of his front. He had laid his plans carefully and well. General Henry S. Rawlinson's Fourth Army, eighteen divisions strong, was poised and ready, awaiting the order
an effort to break the German front between Maricourt and Serre and capture the high ground between Bapaume and Ginchy. Simultaneously there was to be an attack by the French to take similar terrain near Sailly and Rancourt; after that the British would wheel left and roll back the German flank to Arras, to attack in
then thrust northward, using cavalry to help shatter the retreating
Tanks and Armor
was a good plan
would work, and everything was as ready as Haig could make it. He walked slowly over to his desk and nodded to the waiting staff officers. He had made his decision. Tomorrow, July 1, 1916, was the day. Before dawn the guns began. Thousands of shells screamed across the sky, arched down, and crashed into the German trenches. It
Geysers of dirt leaped into the air. The barbed wire in front of the trenches began to disappear, uprooted and slashed into wandering segments. Some of the trenches began to cave in. Nothing, it seemed, could withstand such a pounding. But deep in underground shelters, the German soldiers waited. The roofs of their dugouts shivered with the explosion of every shell tearing into the ground above. Dirt sifted into their eyes, down their backs, and into their hair. The men coughed and sputtered, but they survived. Their underground chambers were deep, very deep, and very strong. Suddenly the terrible din stopped. The men looked up. Whistles blew. Officers shouted commands. The soldiers grabbed rifles, machine guns, and mortars all taken into the protective shelters with them when the shelling began and rushed back into
They peered into the dust and smoke ahead but could see nothing. Then there it was, a long line of men, almost shoulder to shoulder, advancing slowly toward the German trenches. A German machine gun stuttered into life. Another ripped off a short burst. Then there were hundreds of them firing simultaneously and German artillery smashed into the advancing ranks. Bullets streamed across the battlefield and the British went down in bloody heaps, writhing in the
great British offensive of the
Somme — had begun
slime of no-man's-land.
Battle of the
hke all the other battles of World War I, in a and more was to come. Soon there was another line advancing, and then it, too, virtually disappeared. Then there was another, then another, and another. terrible bloodbath,
The British battalions kept attacking in four to eight waves, not more than a hundred yards apart, across a twenty-five-mile front, walking, crawhng, and trampling over their
own dead and
By dusk most battahons were down to about a hundred men, who formed up in small groups under whatever leaders they could find. They continued to advance in short rushes, and German machine guns continued to cut them down. But the sheer weight of the 20
Battle of the
assault finally carried the British into tions,
and most of the
very high price in
Somme and over many German posiwere taken, although at a
That day the British suffered
war 19,240 killed, or so severely hurt that they later died, and 38,230 wounded. The next day the battle continued, and the next day, and the
single day's loss of the
weeks the struggle went on, but the offensive on which General Haig and the British General Staff pinned such hopes gradually deteriorated into a series of probing and jabbing attacks, with no great success achieved anywhere. General Rawlinson's army did stage one night attack on July 14, after a very short but fierce bombardment, and penetrated through two German hues of trenches, but nowhere was the enemy's front broken. This was not surprising, because by this stage of the war the German defenses in some sectors extended thirty miles to the rear, a fact that was known to most next. For
and presumably by the
Week after week the fighting reserves were used up.
barbed wire, which
British General Staff too.
continued, and gradually the British
could be torn
The machine gun up but not eliminated
Tanks and Armor
— had once
was too much for the foot soldier to contend with by himself. It was then, with the infantry's failure a certainty, that Haig suddenly remembered that persistent lieutenant colonel who had had some strange idea about building a land destroyer that could break down German wire, straddle enemy trenches, and crush machine-gun positions. Swinton, that was his name. Haig immediately sent out a call for help from the new tank corps, then known as the Heavy Section, Machine Gun Corps. again proved
Something strange was going on at Thetford, on the estate of Lord Iveagh in Britain. All civilians had been moved out of the surrounding fifteen-square-mile area and military patrols were estabUshed to make certain no one slipped back in. More and more soldiers had been arriving there, too, none of them certain about what they were there for, except that they had volunteered for "secret operations of a hazardous nature," and were assigned to some new organization called the Heavy Section, Machine Gun Corps. Most of the men came to Thetford from Bisley Camp in Surrey, England, where some had learned to ride motorcycles, and others were from Whale Island where they had been taught to fire 6-pounder cannon.
of their new assignment deepened when some large boxlike objects, concealed under canvas tarpaulins, began to arrive
These were the first tanks although they were not yet that name. The workmen who had built them were
told as little as possible about the true nature of the project, so they
names of their own, such as "Box of Tricks," "Shove a Penny," and "Thingum-a-jig." Swinton, who had been asked to come up with a name that would conceal the actual nature and purpose invented
of the tank, considered such possibihties as "container," "recep-
and "reservoir," all to describe the boxHke appearance of the vehicle. Then he decided on the word "tank" and helped create the fiction that the new armored wagons of war were actually water tanks that were going to be shipped to the British troops in Palestine. Another version was that they were snowplows destined for use by Russia. tacle," "cistern,"
Now, with assigned the
mass production, it had been Mark I. Actually, however, this a strange and confusing assortment of names that
the tank in actual official
was only one of
The became associated with
this first usable
model. "Big Willie," and
"Centipede" have already been mentioned. But the tank also came to be known as "Mother" because it was the first standardized version of a weapon of war that would obviously have many offspring. The designers of the Mark I had decided also that there would have one called the "Male" because it would have to be two models more powerful guns, and one called the "Female," armed only with machine guns and assigned the role of protecting the "Male." So it was possible for "Mother" to be a "Male" called "Big Willie" but officially known as Mark I. Training began, and soon these ungainly new monsters were waddling and snorting around several new training grounds. The men had to learn how to drive them, how to fire the guns, and what tactics to use in subduing enemy machine guns. They had been given a huge and awkward vehicle to accomplish this task. The Mark I Male weighed 30 tons, had a speed of 3.7 miles per hour, could travel 12 miles without refueling, and required a minimum of four men to steer it and drive it. It was armed with two 6-pounder cannon about the size of a present-day 57-millimeter gun and four Hotchkiss machine guns, all protected by armor plate .4 of an inch thick. The female tank had one Hotchkiss and four Vickers machine guns. Each tank was commanded by an officer and had a crew of seven enlisted men a driver, four gunners, and two gearsmen. They could see outside through peepholes built into a short periscope, which was later abandoned in favor of polished metal mirrors because of the danger from shattered glass. The gunners and gearsmen sat on seats modeled after bicycle saddles, the gunners immediately behind their weapons and the gearsmen either
on the crankshaft casing or on either side of the engine. When the driver wanted to change gears, he had to bang on the transmission casing to attract the attention of the gearsmen, then hold up one finger for first gear or two fingers for second gear. If he pointed downward with two fingers that meant the gearsmen should shift Into neutral. Two large, ungainly wheels, which were supposed to help in steering, trailed behind the tank. The new tankmen soon learned that when a Mark I was in motion it was a hot, stinking bedlam of noise that rolled and pitched like a ship in a heavy sea. The roar of the huge six-cylinder Daimler 23
Tanks and Armor in engine, set
in the center of the tank,
off the interior
walls and was magnified into a din that left eardrums stunned and quivering for hours after the ride was over. Adding to the racket were the rattling of water cans, spare parts, and containers filled
with ammunition, food, grease, and engine oU.
was equally overpowering. Above the engine a pipe funneled off most of the exhaust gas through the roof. But some of it escaped into the crew area and mingled with fumes from the engine supplies. These vapors, combined with the terrible heat from the engine, the deafening sound, and the motion of the tank,
made many to
in the tank
always have, they learned surroundings quickly, and
soon discovered that if they kept a can of water hanging against the exhaust pipe they could have boiling water for tea at any time even if it did taste of gasohne. The men were formed into six companies lettered A through F, with Colonel Swinton as the commander. Each company was to have twenty-five tanks and crews, making an eventual hoped-for
150 tanks, 184 officers, and 1,610 enlisted men. This included headquarters and supply personnel besides the actual members of the tank crews. total of
Morale was high from the very beginning, for not only did the men recognize that they were pioneers in a new type of warfare, but they felt they were part of an ehte unit, which reflected credit on them individually. Typical of their high spirit was the practice that developed of giving their tanks names that began with the letter of their company's designation. For example, some C Company tanks were "Chartreuse," "Champagne," "Cognac," "Chablis," "Cordon Rouge," and "Creme de Menthe," all named after French beverages. The training was intense, for Swinton, with his usual foresight, quickly grasped how necessary it was for the men to thoroughly master this new weapon before it was used in combat. In a memorandum he particularly cautioned his superiors that tanks should be used only in areas where the ground was firm enough to support them properly. He also emphasized that the tanks should be brought into the forward areas with great secrecy so that when finally thrown into battle they would achieve maximum surprise. But he
had hardly laid down these principles when the order arrived from Haig to send the tanks available immediately. They were needed to get the stalled
Somme offensive rolling 24
Swinton pleaded for more time, emphasizing that this new weapon should be held back until it could be used in very large numbers in a bold and massive attack, and until his men were better prepared. But his objections were to no avail. Men were dying in France and GHQ felt that the complaints of a mere lieutenant colonel about misusing an untried and still experimental machine were not worth listening to. So C Company was sent to France immediately and D Company followed later, arriving only two days before being sent into action.
was a dark
light over a
star shell burst in the sky, casting a pale
cluttered with trucks, ambulances, horses
and marching soldiers bent under heavy moving column, strange, hulking, lozenge-shaped vehicles with clanking tracks and throbbing motors filled the darkness with an ominous rumble. C and D companies of the Heavy Section, Machine Gun Corps were moving up. It was September 14, 1916. Two days before, C Company had unloaded its tanks from flatcars at a railroad center known as The Loop near Bray on the Somme. The company assembled in a muddy field and was joined there later by D Company a combined total of forty-nine vehicles and their crews, huddled in the rain and darkness. A chill wind, fouled by the stench of unburied carcasses and rotting bodies, moaned through the skeletons of trees nearby. And in the distance, flashes of light flickered on the horizon where the muffled thunder of faraway guns rumbled through the night. Rejoined by their officers, who had been summoned to a hastily caUed conference with corps and division commanders, the companies were moving forward now, edging up to their jump-off straining to pull big guns
packs. Interspersed in the
tank attack in history. The tanks churned and strained through the deep, oozing muck and dipped in and out of shell holes brimming with scummy water.
points for the
stuck. Others broke
down. Whenever the flow of men,
guns, and equipment halted, the tankers hopped out to tighten tracks, tinker with motors,
and make adjustments that would keep
their vehicles operating.
Finally C Company pulled out of line into its assembly area near Trone Wood, and D Company assembled farther north under the naked trees of Green Dump in Delville Wood. Officers counted their machines. Seventeen were missing. Some had fallen out with
Tanks and Armor
engine trouble, some were hopelessly mired, a few had lost their way. Thirty-two tanks and their weary crews, without sleep for almost twenty-four hours, were ready for the final orders that would send them into battle. Their objective, they were informed, was a loop of
trenches, three lines deep, guarded by fortified strongpoints,
chine guns, and barbed-wire entanglements. The tanks were to attack at 5:30 a.m., followed thirty minutes later by the infantry of three British corps. Seventeen tanks
— were assigned
attack on the
attached to the
capture the villages of Flers and Gueudecourt. tanks of
C Company were
the last seven
assigned to reserve forces attacking
Martinpuich and Courcelette on the
XIV and XV Corps which were to right and center. Eight more D Company tanks, XXX Corps, were ordered to charge up the center and to the
hung low over the The tanks moved cautiously ahead again, the noise of their motors purposely drowned out by planes of the Royal Flying Corps making low sweeps over the German front lines. Big British field guns opened up too, belching long tongues of flame and adding skies cleared
and a roof of
a rumbling backdrop of crashing thunder and lightning. Under a waning moon the rustling, whispered passage of the shells continued into the early morning hours and was still under a single D Company tank commanded by Captain H. W. Mortimore waddled forward at 5:15 a.m. on a special mission before the main attack began: to join with two companies of Yorkshire infantry and clear German troops out of the south end of Delville Wood, removing a threat to one flank of the assault. The column of Yorkshire Tommies fell in behind Mortimore's tank, then dropped into old communication trenches and followed, echeloned to the rear as the tank headed across no-man's-land toward the shadowy mass of the woods ahead. Flashes of fire from German machine guns split the darkness and one of the tank's 6-pounders boomed in reply. Artillery shells screamed down, exploding in volcanoes of fire, tearing and ripping at the trees. The tank crawled closer, machine guns chattering, and then the infantry, shouting and whooping, swept by in a headlong charge into the woods. Suddenly there was a trench in front of Mortimore's tank, Grind-
ing forward, the huge machine reared sk)rward and then flopped
astride the deep, winding slot. Its Hotchkiss machine guns stabbed at the void, and grimy faces, registering unbehef, fright, then terror, popped out of dugout entrances. The Germans fled in
The attack was a
After a brief pause, Mortimore turned his tank to the east and
main attack when it began. Slopping through the mud, machine groped ahead about three hundred yards. German shells came arching in, throwing up geysers of sodden earth and fountains of water. Suddenly the crew felt a giant fist smash against the right side of the laboring vehicle. The men, jerked off balance, toppled to the floor, coughing and sputtering two of them dying in the smoke boiling up around them. The tank spun around. The right track peeled off and shthered into the mud, torn apart by an artillery shell that had exploded next to the right sponson, housing one of the 6-pounders. The first tank in history to go into battle was joined in the the
through for the day.
While Captain Mortimore's tank carried out
the other tanks waited with motors idling for the 5 30 a.m. deadline :
turned faces of British
As the minutes ticked
last British frontline trench.
at the clatter-
ing vehicles as they crunched up and over the last sandbagged
parapet and halted in an irregular line, waiting out the final minutes.
Now it was time. As one, the motors roared. Gears clashed. Flames leaped from roof-vented exhausts. All along the front the huge, dark blobs poised in front of the British line jerked forward.
sweeping by overhead peered down through the 15, 1916, and saw rivers of smoke from the tanks' exhausts pouring back toward the British trenches. The strange sound of the throbbing motors penetrated to the German hnes too. German sentries looked up into the sky, wondering if the British planes that had harassed them during the night were back. The sound grew louder. The sentries called down to companions in the trenches below. Yes, they heard it too. The sound intensified. Now there was a clank, clank, clanking noise and the distinct pounding of powerful motors. The sentries stared into the mist toward the British lines but could see nothing. Officers hurried British aviators
morning mist of September
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare
up from their dugouts to have a look for themselves. Now the awesome roar was all around them and dark, ghostly shapes seemed to be moving through the foggy mantle shrouding the ground. Then suddenly, huge, terrible, dark monsters, spouting flame and smoke, were upon them. German machine gunners opened up and watched in amazement as their red-hot tracer slugs bounced off the steel sides of the monstrous machines. Fire and earth-jarring explosions leaped from the sides of the rolling, heaving behemoths, blasting machine-gun positions into cratered ruins draped with mangled bodies of
The tanks crashed up and over the German parapets, blasting away with their cannon and lashing the entrenchments with machine-gun fire. Some of the Germans dropped their guns and fled in horror. Others stood
at these huge, fire-spitting lines.
tried to fight, futilely firing their rifles
monsters that had smashed into their
of the brave died there, caught by the savage bursts
from the tank guns. Panic broke out in some areas and the German troops fell back rapidly. There was almost equal pandemonium inside the tanks. The crews were near exhaustion from lack of sleep. Fumes from the motor and the pitching and rolling of the machines made many ill and left the floor of the tanks slippery with their vomit. And when German machine-gun bullets battered the sides of the tanks, a strange new phenomenon developed that no one had anticipated.
bullets did not penetrate but
flakes of metal broke off
and went saihng around with almost bullet-like force, peppering the men's faces, hands, and arms and opening painful wounds. Bullets smashed into periscope openings, too, and sent tiny fragments of glass flying back into the eyes and faces of the gunners and drivers. Some were blinded. As the mist and darkness lifted, the Germans pulled back and their artillery found the range. Tanks suddenly exploded in flames, inside
incinerated by direct hits. Others suffered the fate of Captain Morti-
more's tank, shedding a track after a glancing artillery strike and
becoming hopelessly immobilized. The motors of others just coughed out and could not be started again, long before the tank had a chance to fire a shot. Still others, plowing through the mud and soft ground churned up by the British barrage, blundered into shell holes and could not get out. And some of the tanks picked up the
it around and around themencased in a barbed-wire cocoon. This slowed the caterpillar tracks and overheated straining motors. Tank crews had to halt, crawl out under fire, and cut away the entanglement.
in their tracks
selves until they
tanks in the center of the assault had the most success. They followed white tape markers set down to guide them out of their assembly area, passed over the British trenches, and
waddled away toward their objective Flers and Gueudecourt. Three tanks reached Flers simultaneously, blasting away with all their weapons at machine-gun nests concealed in the ruins of the village. The German gunners were cut down as they broke and ran. The three Bavarian divisions assigned to the area were terrorized by the strange machines. Many of these soldiers surrendered. Others watched, paralyzed with fear, as the tanks trampled down their positions and crushed their wire barricades into the ground.
the right flank of Flers, Lieutenant
trench to await the arrival of
Zealand infantry. Together they were supposed to knock out two enemy strongpoints. A hail of bullets rattled off one side of his tank. Another burst hammered at the other side. Soon bullets were flying at the tank from every direction, angling off in whining, screaming deflected flight. Brown searched the terrain, first through one periscope, then another, trying to find the principal origin of the annoying fire. Finally he detected the outlines of a honeycomb of strongpoints off to one side. Pulling the tank around slowly, he headed for the German position. The bullets kept battering his tank, but now his machine guns and 6-pounders were responding. His tank crawled up and over the German position, crushing machine gun after machine gun under its steel treads as the German crews broke and ran in terror, many to be cut down by the tank's guns. Up and down the position Brown's tank moved, slaughtering the Germans and creating general chaos until an artillery barrage came screaming down on the Germans' tormentor. The tank burst into flames, but the crew scrambled out safely. Lieutenant Hastie commanded another D Company tank that turned into the main street of Flers shortly after 8.00 a.m. Its machine guns, laid on like fiery bullwhips, paralyzed all German opposition, and the steady pounding of the 6-pounders sent the
Tanks and Armor
defenders fleeing out the back doors of ruined buildings. So efPective fire that the Tommies plodded along behind, not even
was Has tie's
German artillery soon came whistling in and the tank and Tommies both had to scatter. Later Hastie slipped out of the town and shot up pockets of Germans holding out along a road taking cover. But
on the outskirts. Four other D Company tanks were hit and knocked out by artillery fire. The crew members who survived stumbled out, bleeding and wounded, to take shelter in nearby trenches. Lieutenant Harold Darby, commanding one of these groups, was almost blinded by splintered glass shards when bullets shattered the periscopes on his tank. Later he and the crew had to abandon the machine after a shell broke one track. He raUied what men he could and they continued to fight as infantry.
Lieutenant Vic Huffam and another officer
commanded D Company
tanks that started out for Flers that morn-
soon became stuck and Huffam ended up in the same predicament trying to get him out. It was late afternoon before a labor gang dug out both vehicles. They reported to Major Summers, their company commander, and were told to attack with the
ing, but Cort's tank
infantry the next day, through captured Flers toward Gueudecourt.
As they headed through Flers the next day, Huffam peered out of the open front flap of his tank at the Uttered
street of the
shattered village. Broken masonry, dead animals, and tangled, twisted bodies of
British soldiers cluttered the roadway.
drop in the street
After a few attempts
away the corpses, Huffam had to order his driver to drive over them. They worked slowly up the street, sickened by the soft, yielding lumps that raised first one track, then the other. Then an Australian officer came racing up through the exploding artillery to clear
arms and shouting:
"For God's sake take your bloody stink box out of here;
The barrage Increased in intensity, but still there was no sign was supposed to assault Gueudecourt with the two tanks. Huffam and Cort were instructed to go on anyway and
of the infantry that
did so, Cort in the lead.
came crashing down around them. Huffam's
driver screamed in pain
and clawed 30
at his face, shouting, "I can't
Huff am pulled him out of the seat and put one of the gearsmen
in his place.
Moments later Cort's tank exploded and burst into flames, knocked out by a direct hit. Huffam, unable to help and feeling certain it was useless anyway, edged his tank around the flaming hulk and continued on. A gust of wind pushed away the smoke and dust kicked up by the incoming barrage and there in front of Huffam was a trench, cutting directly across the road. In moments Huffam had his tank straddling it and opened up with machine guns on both sides. He had a fleetthe glimpse of hundreds of fleeing, scrambling German backsides before they disappeared from sight in both directions. The jolting blasts of the 6-pounder on the left side of the tank suddenly stopped. Huffam feared the gunner had been shot, but never found out for certain. As he turned to see what had happened, an incoming sheU came shrieking down. A tremendous force picked up the tank and tore it apart. Huffam found himself lying in the mud on top of one of his noncommissioned officers who kept saying, "For Christ's sake, get off my legs, sir." Though badly wounded, Huffam staggered to his feet and dragged the man back to the British lines. Unlike D Company, the C Company tanks on the right of the attack jumped off at 5:30 a.m. into a sea of mud and made little progress. Thrashing through the soft ground, they had great difficulty finding the enemy line. Several promptly got stuck. Others were put out of action by German artillery. But there were successful forays too.
ran into a hail of German fire as soon as they became visible through the mist. One kept going, floundering straight up to the Germans, then turning and hosing down their trenches with machine-gun fire as it moved along parallel to the position. But it turned too sharply and dug deep into the mud. Unable to work free, the crew released a carrier pigeon with a message explaining what had happened, then dismantled the tank's guns and fought as infantry. One tank followed a railroad track through the mist and smoke. Suddenly the crew saw soldiers advancing with their guns at a high port. The tankers opened fire with their machine guns only to discover that they were firing on British troops. of the tanks charged out of Bouleaux
Tanks and Armor
Of ten C Company tanks assigned Division only two reached the
work with the Guards
German hnes by 6:00
But these two, twisting and turning, sent streams of bullets pouring into the German trenches and touched off a German stampede to get out of their way. The Guards Division came charging up behind the tanks, bayonets fixed, and went right on through.
the left of the line, the tanks assigned to attack Martinpuich
and Courcelette met with both success and failure. The ground in was firmer and all but one reached their objective. Two, however, lost their way temporarily and fired on their own infantry. Another dug itself into the ground and could not get out. But one tank cUmbed up astride the first German trench and mowed down scores of cornered Bavarian soldiers until one German, in desperation, crawled up close and kept firing into the partly open metal joints of the tank until he ignited fuel inside and set it afire. Still another C Company tank wandered lost and alone in the mist until the jagged ruins of Martinpuich suddenly reared up out of the fog. Almost simultaneously German machine-gun bullets began bouncing off its hull. The tank nosed around clumsily, spotted the guns, and rolled straight for them, all guns firing. The steel treads crushed the gun positions and the Germans fled. One of the tanks that was destined to become famous was "Creme de Men the," and it began building its reputation in this very first attack. It moved straight for the German lines at 5:30 a.m. only to have the Canadian infantry it was supporting move up abreast of its dipping and weaving snout, then charge on in front until German machine guns opened up great gaps in the Canadian ranks. Snorting* and puffing, belching flame and smoke, Creme de Menthe rushed to the rescue, all guns hammering. One after another the German gunners were cut down by the tank's fierce fire and their companions decided it was time to leave. One group raced into the Courcelette sugar factory and opened up on the tank again from there. Creme de Menthe nosed around as if sniffing the air to try to discover where this new pounding of bullets was coming from. The their sector
tank continued turning until the factory came into the driver's line He headed the tank straight for the building.
Inside the factory the
in terrorized fascination
as their bullets kept bouncing off the heavy steel front plate of the
and closer. Now they could feel the vibrations of its giant engine and hear the clanking of its moving tracks. Right up to the wall of the building Creme de Menthe moved. For a moment it paused, then with a great roaring of its engine and flailing of tracks it dug into the ground and pushed against the wall. Bricks fell in all directions, at first a few at a time and then in a cascade of debris. The great lumbering machine crashed through a widening opening onto the factory floor, shedding bricks and broken timbers off its back as it moved farther into the building. The tank turned around inside, then crawled out again as the building collapsed on its German defenders. The fighting gradually tapered of for the day and those tanks that could move under their own power crawled back to the rear to reorganize and get ready for more attacks the next day. The day had not been a spectacular success by any means. Fortynine tanks were originally made available for the battle, but only tank as
to the starting point.
of these, only nine
actually acomplished their mission, staying in front of the infantry,
breaking down the enemy wire, and wiping out the enemy's machine-gun positions so that the infantry could pass through. Nine others did valuable work in mopping up, although they were not able to stay in front of the attacking troops. Five were disabled and nine broke down, but in many cases they still contributed to the attack by keeping their guns in action, or because the crews
dismounted and fought with the infantry. Some of the tanks pushed ahead too far and were captured. But most tragic of all was the failure of General Rawlinson's army to capitaUze on the limited success of the tank assault. Substantial gains were punched out in some sectors. If reserve troops had been ready they could have taken and held the new ground without difficulty. It was a day of many mistakes that was to have far too
many echoes in the future.
The Tank On A wave
Trial London and other Newspaper headlines
of popularity for the tank swept through
British cities after its first use in France.
described the tank in such colorful language as "Jabberwock with Eyes of Flame," "Land Dreadnought," "Giant Toad," and "Touring Fort," and one overenthusiastic news writer in telling of the first battle described the attacking armored force as "blind creatures emerging from the primeval slime," Many stories were invented about the adventures of Creme de Menthe and other tanks, creating a general impression throughout Britain that this was so powerful a weapon that the German army might be defeated within a few weeks.
Not only were these stories largely untrue, but they represented a favorable opinion of the tank's accomphshments that was not shared by many of the British commanders. These men, deeply indoctrinated in the concepts of traditional warfare and convinced that infantry would always be the "Queen of Battle," tended to look upon the tank as a strange fad or toy that would soon be put aside. Their attitude was reflected in pessimistic reports sent back to the War Office in London, where it was equally difficult for traditionbound minds to grasp the revolutionary nature of the new weapon. Fortunately, General Haig did not share these views completely.
While stating that the tanks had not done
all that was hoped for, he more clearly than some of his officers. When Colonel Swinton came to see him shortly after the September
able to see their value
15 attack, he promptly acknowledged that in the Flers-Courcelette area British troops were able to take their objectives wherever the
tanks were able to advance.
they could not advance, he said,
the objectives were not captured. Therefore, he wanted as
— The Tank On
tanks as he could get and suggested they have heavier armor and be better designed. So one thousand new tanks were ordered and
by early 1917 new Mark II and Mark III models were rolling out of the William Foster and Sons plant at Lincoln. These were substantially the same tank as the Mark I but with improved steering, heavier armor, and better ventilation. Fuel tanks were also moved to the outside of the tank to lessen the danger of internal fire killing the crew. Another very obvious change was the removal of the awkward pair of wheels that had trailed behind the Mark I tanks. They had been put there in the beUef that they would help in making turns, but had proved useless. To handle this flood of new equipment, orders were issued on October 20, 1916, for the Heavy Section, Machine Gun Corps, to expand to nine battalions. The four companies then in France were to form the nucleus of twelve new companies A, B, C, and D organized in four battahons, and E and F companies stiU in Britain were to expand into five more battalions. The tanks in Britain were given Bovington Camp in Dorset as a permanent base and those in France were assigned to a camp at Bermicourt. Lieutenant Colonel Hugh EUes, an engineer officer and friend of Swinton's, was given
of the tanks in France.
While these decisions were being made, the tanks that had
vived the attack of September 15 and 16, and the tanks recovered
and repaired, were used
in several small-scale
continuing but slowly dying Battle of the
engagements in the
At Thiepval, on September 25 and 26, thirteen tanks jumped off with the 21st Infantry Division in an attack against a heavily fortified position known as Gird Trench. Nine of the tanks promptly bogged down in the mud and soft ground before they could fire a But one of the remaining four, a female tank commanded by Second Lieutenant Charles Storey of D Company, turned in a shot.
spectacular performance. In the initial assault the infantry gained
German entrenchments, and hundred yards apart. The commanders of
only two precarious footholds in the
these were about fifteen the hard-pressed units holding these positions sent out an urgent appeal for a new assault to wipe out the Germans holding the area in between. Responding, Storey eased his tank across the British
front line at 6 30 a.m. on September 26, rumbled across no-man's:
land at two and a half miles per hour, and plowed into the
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare wire. Following close behind
him were some supporting
whipped the tank sharply
with machine guns blazing, rolled along the front of the German trench. The Germans fought back savagely. Machinegun bullets battered at the tank from all sides. German stick grenades exploded against its sides and German sharpshooters cracked away at the tank's gunports and sight apertures. They had to the left and,
been taught that a bullet striking one of these openings could "splash" through into the tank and kill and wound its occupants. Inside the tank, the lurching and pitching of the machine as it crawled over the shell-pocked terrain threw crew members against
the hot engine. Bullets penetrated the gunports steel
tiny flakes of
zinged back and forth from wall to wall, set in motion by the
pounding of the machine-gun bullets on the hull. One by one the members of the crew were slumping in their seats, wounded. But the tank careened on, blasting away at the trench. Finally, just as it seemed there would be no one left able to fight, white handerchiefs began to appear and the British infantry moved in to round up prisoners while Storey continued on to help foot soldiers in a further attack on Gueudecourt, despite the casualties in his crew. For his exceptional performance Charles Storey was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In another attack in the Thiepval area on September 25, eight tanks accompanied by infantry crossed to the German trenches without a preliminary artillery bombardment, took the Germans by complete surprise, and helped round up hundreds of prisoners. The British casualties were very light. Both the tankers and the British infantry officers who had launched this strike were amazed by the results. They were also puzzled. Why had this small attack been so successful when others of a similar type had failed? Some, of course, quickly discovered the answer, but did not really quite believe their
and were unable to convince higher officers of their findings. The significant difference was, of course, the dropping of the preliminary artillery bombardment. This had always been a signal to the Germans that an attack was coming and gave them time to prepare to meet it. In this case, since there was no warning barrage, the tanks and infantry were on top of the Germans almost before 36
The Tank On
was happening. The element of surprise was Germans were overrun very quickly. Some tank officers remembered this and tucked it away in their minds for use at a later date. It was to pay big dividends in a great battle not yet they discovered what so great that the
even thought of. In still another attack on November 16, two tanks pushed out ahead of the infantry in an effort to take Beaumont-Hamel. The first tank floundered through the soft ground, passed over the first German trench, and then became stuck in a shell hole. The second tank ran into even softer ground and was barely able to keep going. Both were in a precarious position but kept pounding away at the Germans with all guns that could be brought to bear. Much to their amazement, white handkerchiefs were soon fluttering in both the first German trench and the support trenches behind it. The tank crews jumped out and helped the infantry round up their prisoners. This action and those that had preceded it, going back to the first armored attack on September 15 and 16, virtually completed the tank's initial baptism of fire. And there was much to be learned from what had happened because virtually every principle laid down by Swinton had been violated. Swinton had said that the tanks should be used in large numbers,
and should be held back and conserved This wasn't done.
said the terrain over
should be carefully selected. into
until this could be done.
which tanks attacked
wasn't; they were repeatedly thrown
swamplike areas. He said routes
of approach for tanks should be specially prepared.
said there should be a reserve of tanks
and that tanks and
fantry should work together. There wasn't and they didn't. Swinton
emphasized very early that at least some of the tanks should be equipped with wireless (radio) sets to permit better coordination and control. He even had sets designed and operators trained, but General Headquarters wouldn't aUow the equipment to
Another mistake was rushing the tanks into combat with only half-trained crews, with no chance to develop sound tactics, without any prior reconnaissance of the ground by the tank personnel, and with total disregard of the fact that the tanks of C Company had been virtually worn out by forced behind-the-lines demonstrations for infantry officers during the short period before the attack on
Tanks and Armor September
This accounted in part for the mechanical break-
of the tanks
into action the
and strenuous training to remedy at least some of these getting under way, when the Heavy Section, Machine Gun Corps as it was still caUed suffered two more setbacks. Both were caused by the general hostile attitude of higher British officers toward the tank. The first came in November when Colonel Swinton was relieved from his assignment as commander of the tank brigade and assigned to Lord Reading's military mission to the United States. He was replaced by Brigadier General F. G. Anley. Swinton, it appeared, had been too correct too many times, and too persistent in pushing his beliefs, for his superiors to accept. His removal from any role in the future development of the tank was preceded by errors
another very serious, but fortunately temporary, setback. On October 10 the order for one thousand new tanks was suddenly canceled. The War Council, apparently impressed by reports of the tank's failures rather than its limited successes, decided to do this
expensive diversion of steel and
that could go into
But the council failed Stern, director of the
reckon with Lieutenant Colonel Albert G.
Tank Supply Department. A
who viewed this cutback as
the height of foolishness. Stern promptly
went direct to Lloyd George who then was Secretary for War and was later to become prime minister. To his astonishment. Stern discovered that Lloyd George did not know that the tank order had been canceled. He promptly agreed with Stern that the move was nonsense. While Stern was still present, Lloyd George issued orders to cancel the cancellation.
offensive finally ended
the sixteen serviceable tanks remaining in the four companies were
ordered to Bermicourt to begin the new expansion program. Yet, even with this new strength flowing into the tank units, an atmosphere of uncertainty remained. There was a growing feeling that the tank would be on trial of 1917; that
operations began in the spring its
value once and for
suspicious and not always too perceptive higher that
command had repeatedly distinguished
command. So far by throwing tanks
suitable for ducks than for thirty-ton vehicles.
The Tank On
same mistake was
be repeated again in the two big 1917 offensive the Battle of Arras, fought from April 9 to May 5, and the actions Third Battle of Ypres, beginning in June. to
driver peered into the darkness.
through the open, front flap of his Mark II, sending a chill racing down his back despite the waves of heat pushed forward by the thundering engine behind him. A tiny pinpoint of hght winked in the inky blackness ahead and a fragile white line led away from it toward the German trenches. This was what he was looking for: The small marker Mghts and tape put down to guide the tanks around the worst of the craters and the mud. Many tanks were on the move that Easter Monday of April 9, 1917. Sixty Mark I's and Mark II's were rumbling forward in support of three British armies ordered to smash through a number of formidable German defensive positions near Arras and push the enemy back on a broad front. Eight were assigned to General Home's First Army, which was to assault Vimy Heights. Forty more were to work with General AUenby's Third Army eight with the XVII Corps north of the Scarpe River and thirty-two with the VI and VII Corps south of the river. The last twelve were attached to General Gough's Fifth Army in a drive to the north toward Vis-en- Artois. Far to the rear the big guns began to pound. The rustling and whispering of their message of death grew in intensity overhead. Soon flames were stabbing the sky on the horizon as the hurricane bombardment of 2,700,000 shells came crashing down on the Ger-
driver rolled his tank over the last British trench
waddling forward at a full speed of 3.7 miles per hour. As far as he could see on
and more mud.
Twisting, turning, avoiding the worst craters and feeling for the
he kept the tank pushing steadily toward the
concrete abutments looming in the half light of
was a strongpoint known as the Harp. He was driving a female tank armed only with machine guns, which were of little use against such strong concrete emplacements. But the gunners were finding targets and the chatter of their weapons could be heard over the roar of the engine. The driver charged straight at the nearest German position, 39
Tanks and Armor
determined that if his tank did not have guns big enough to destroy the weight of the vehicle would be enough to crush it. The Germans had overcome much of their initial fear of tanks by this time and they made a stiff fight of it. Soldier after soldier kept standing up, swinging a sandbag in his hands and trying to throw it at the tank. All were cut down before they could hurl this
But in other sectors of the attack that day, the And only then did the tank crews discover what the Germans had in the bags. Each was loaded with a number of stick grenades rigged to explode when they hit a tank. Other hazards cropped up, too, in the advance on the Harp. One tanker, who manned a 6-pounder cannon on a much repaired Mark I, reported that targets kept looming up in front of him and he kept blasting them into shattered, gory debris. His puffing, wheezing old Mark I cracked right through the German front line, shot up the reserve trench too, and was beginning to roll when suddenly it dropped straight down and came to a jarring stop. It had fallen into one of scores of cleverly concealed tank traps the Germans had devised. They were square-sided pits half filled with water, and covered with wire netting and canvas concealed under a thin layer of earth. The tank was stuck, and all the thrashing backward and forward by the crew, as they tried to dislodge it, only dug the tank in deeper. The crew had to dismount and look for timbers to throw in under the spinning tracks; this would provide enough traction to pull the tank free. But by now the attack was rolling and German positions were falling all along the front. This was partly due to a new British gas shell lobbed into German artillery positions. It wiped out many of the German gun crews but it also gave the British tankers a difficult time. They were forced to go into battle wearing gas masks, adding to the already tortuous and suffocating conditions inside the tanks. Tank salvage crews also suffered severely at Arras, having to carry out their very strenuous recovery jobs while wearing masks. A much greater hazard, however, was a new type of "K" armorpiercing ammunition which the Germans had started using in this same battle. It had a hard steel jacket and part of the time successstrange
tankers were not so lucky.
fully penetrated the boiler-plate steel in the tanks' hull.
by far the tanks' worst problem. As in previous had churned up the
attacks the heavy preliminary artillery barrage
The Tank On already soft ground and in
demolished roads and eliminated much of the traction in open spaces. Six of eight tanks that went into action near Achicourt shells
became stuck almost immediately. The eight assigned to the First Army's attack on Vimy Ridge were unable to get through the badly shelled area in front of the German emplacements and had to be withdrawn. North of the Scarpe three tanks did get into the fighting and destroyed many German machine-gun positions, while south of the Scarpe other tanks pinned down many German guns and troops and cleared the way for a general British advance. Most of the tank crews spent the second day of the Arras offensive digging out their vehicles, but a few were thrown into some hard
Wancourt, and one tank provided a brief, fleeting glimpse of the spectacular potential striking power of armor. Plunging and rearing across the cratered ground with guns blazing, it
up three German defense lines, killed scores of German infantry men, scattered many units, and destroyed several machine shot
guns. After passing over the third line of German trenches, the tank broke out into open country beyond Arras and was ready to roll. Multiply this picture by five or six hundred tanks and you have a rough approximation of a proper role for tanks that was still not
recognized: a devastating
to achieve a
followed by infantry to hold open the gap torn in the
and then more and more waves of tanks, infantry, artillery and other arms to follow through and keep the offensive rolling deep into the enemy's back areas until forced to halt by superior forces or lack of supplies.
But this conception of massed armored assault, built around the tank as the chief weapon, had not yet been developed and this lone tank received orders to halt its advance while the cavalry came up to exploit the break in the German lines. A whole cavahy division moved up in fine order, deployed rapidly, and charged straight ahead. The tank crew climbed out and watched the spectacle, awed by the muffled thunder of the horses hooves, the flashing sabers, the peal of the bugles, and the snapping flags. It was a scene from a much earlier era when cavalry had been the supreme weapon of decision in battle. But it was one that would not be repeated
many more times, for suddenly a German machine gun and men and horses toppled like dominos. A few more
Tanks and Armor
machine guns opened up and the charge turned into a catastrophe. The cavahry attack stalled completely. The horsemen proved even more helpless than the foot soldiers before a handful of machine guns that could have been brushed aside by armor. By April 11, the third day of the Arras offensive, German reserves arrived and the successful British attacks of the first two days were brought to a halt. The fighting quickly reverted back to trench warfare, although tanks were used in a few more actions at Monchy-lePreux, BuUecourt, and Neuville-Vitasse before the battle died down. Six Mark II's jumped ofF ahead of the infantry in the assault on Monchy-le-Preux. It had snowed the previous day and sporadic flurries continued during the night and into the early morning as the attack got under way in biting cold weather. The plan was for the tanks to pass through the British front lines at 5 00 a.m. behind :
a creeping artillery barrage that was to begin at the
weather was so bitter that the hour for the attack was postponed until 7:00 A.M. but no one told the tankmen. During the approach march, two of the six tanks broke down and another became stuck
in a shell hole, leaving only three to pass on over the startled, halffrozen British sentries in the frontline trench at 5 00 a.m. :
commanders could not understand why there was no artillery bombardment under way and stopped in no-man's-land to confer. They were still puzzling over the situation when dawn began
to dilute the
darkness a short time later. Finally, they decided and they had to obey them.
that their orders were clear
Catching the Germans completely by surprise because no artillery preparation had been fired, the tanks waddled straight up the main street of Monchy, firing at everything in sight. Germans began to pop up everywhere, running and shouting, some of them trying to pull on their pants as they fled. Soon the street was littered with bodies and chaos spread through the German ranks. The tanks passed completely through Monchy and could have kept going, but the crews soon discovered that the Germans were reoccupying the village behind them, so they turned the vehicles around and started back through again. This time it was not so easy. Machine-gun fire hammered against the sides of the tanks and some of the special "K" rounds began penetrating the boiler-plate sides. One of the tanks burst into flames and was soon a charred ruin. None of the crew
The Tank On
up German Germans The dead in the streets, but still managed to get a machine gun loaded with armor-piercing ammunition into action from the first-floor window of a building and, at 6 45 A.M., the guns of one of the remaining two tanks fell silent. The commander of the third tank assumed the entire crew of the other tank had been killed or badly wounded and decided it was time to get out. Everybody in his crew was wounded, too, and as he struggled
The remaining two tanks fought back
to back, piling
the battle continued.
desperately to drive his tank back through the littered street, a bullet penetrated the gun mounting and painfully wounded him in the
neck. Although bleeding heavily, he
able to drive
about to shake off the last of the German attackers A.M. British artillery barrage descended.
and was the 7 00 :
The tank took a direct hit and the driver, a man named Jack Harris, did not remember much after that. He learned later that he was the only one of the crew to get out, and that somehow he had made his way back to the British lines. The infantry came up right behind the barrage and after a bitter fight finally recaptured the village that could have been taken with little resistance, two hours
when the tanks had first attacked. The attack on BuUecourt was not nearly as successful as that on Monchy, and it also left bitter feelings between Australian troops and the tanks that had been assigned to work with them. The assault was originally scheduled to begin the day before, April
10, but the eleven tanks assigned to the mission
snowstorm and could not make
were caught in a
to the jump-off spot in
time. Several Australian infantry regiments also lost their
and had to pull back under heavy German artillery fire after the attack was postponed a day. There were many casualties. When the attack did get under way at 4:30 a.m. on April 11, the infantry had trouble wading through the deep snow. The foot soldiers ended up walking single file in the track marks of the tanks, the storm
with their dark uniforms standing out clearly against the background of snow thus setting up an easy target for the German artillery. Before they completed their mission, nine of the eleven
tanks were knocked out by the
months work with tanks.
guns. For several
after this action, Australian troops flatly refused to
The British thrust at Neuville- Vitesse was staged over ground that was much more favorable for employing armor, and this action 43
Tanks and Armor in
became an outstanding example
tanks could be used in
With no infantry support, four Germans down with their machine-gun fire, turned northeast toward Wancourt, rampaged through the German back areas, and then returned safely to small, limited but effective raids.
tanks pushed through Heninel, pinning the
the British lines after being out for almost eight hours.
There were more
efforts after that to get the offensive rolling
again, but the Battle of Arras
taken and most objectives reached, but the price in casualties was again very heavy 132,000 British officers and men killed, wounded,
by tanks in all this was relatively minor, were mixed. They ranged from the excellent but limited actions south of the Scarpe River and at Wancourt on April 9 and 10, plus the Neuville-Vitesse raid on April 11, to the poor showing of the tanks with the Australians at BuUecourt. or missing.
The offensive also led the Germans to assume that they had found an effective answer to the tank in their new "K" armorpiercing ammunition, and convinced the British that in their proposed new Mark IV models the armor plating would have to be made strong enough to turn aside such high-velocity hard-nosed bullets.
Ypres was a picturesque little Belgian town in western Flanders near the border of France. Before World War I it was surrounded by farms standing on reclaimed marshland, which was carefully and effectively drained by a system of canals. Two previous battles fought in this area had seriously damaged this system and General
Haig had laid detailed plans for a third. His reputation had been marred by the failure of the costly Somme offensive the previous year, and he was now anxious to try again to push the Germans back from the English Channel ports through which his army's supplies were landed. He also wanted to obtain a decisive breakthrough and bring the end of the war nearer, before the armies of the United States, which had entered the war on April 6, 1917, could be brought into the fighting. In vain, tank officers cautioned that more heavy shelling in the Ypres area would completely destroy the remaining drainage canals
and the area would revert
swamplike conditions. They also autumn rains began
pointed out that weather records showed heavy
The Tank On
early in Flanders and that this would make the ground virtually impassable for tanks. But Haig was under pressure from the Royal Navy to capture and destroy the German submarine bases along the Belgian coast, or else face the prospect of such serious shipping losses that Britain might not be able to continue the war. Thus Haig felt he had to go ahead, and so once again objections to using tanks
ground were brushed aside and plans for an offensive in the Ypres area were rapidly completed. The attack began with a preliminary action against Messines Ridge in which seventy-six new, more heavily armored Mark IV
tanks played a secondary
of sapper battalions who, for
of the operation
many weeks, had been
digging a tunnel from their lines to positions directly under the
main German strongpoints on Messines. They hollowed out large chambers, packed them with nineteen mines, and promptly at 3:00 A.M. on the morning of June 7, 1917, the mines were exploded. The bulk of the strong German forces holding the position were deground against hght, scattered resistance, and by noon twenty-six tanks were on the ridge. At 3: 10 P.M., twenty-two tanks moved on to the final objective, Oesttaverne, and helped to hold it against increasingly strong German counterattacks. The Mark IV's performed well and their heavier armor successfully withstood the Germans' "K" ammunition. While Haig rushed preparations to begin the second phase of the Ypres offensive, the Heavy Section, Machine Gun Corps, was officially renamed the Tank Corps in ceremonies at Bermicourt which were attended by King George. The change reflected the fact that there was no longer any reason to mask the true identity of the tank units behind a false name, since the Germans were now well acquainted with the weapon. The battalions in England were also brought to France for the occasion, and the Corps was organized into three brigades: the first made up of D and G Battalions, the second consisting of A and B, and the third of C and F. All of this was barely completed when the Corps went back into action. More than two hundred and thirty tanks moved up to join the fifty infantry divisions and 3,091 artillery pieces Haig was massing to hurl against the Germans. The artillery bombardment began on July 16, nine days before the scheduled jump-off on July 25; then it was extended five more days over the renewed vigorous stroyed, the British occupied the
Tanks and Armor protests of Colonel
the almost unbelievable the
of five million shells were fired at
defenses; then, at 3:50 a.m. on July 31, the and infantry moved forward through the mud,
What followed will always stand in military history as one of the most wasteful slaughters of trained soldiers. The name "Bloody Passchendaele," where many of the 400,000 British casualties in the three-month battle were suffered, will always be a symbol of such senseless entire battle
of future tank units, the
example of the
It soon became apparent that the Germans had made a much more accurate estimate than the British of the effect of the terrain on the outcome of the battle. They retreated rapidly over a seven-
mile front in the face of the British advance, drawing the infantry
and tanks deep into the sea of Ypres mud where they could be dealt with more easily. More and more of the tanks became stuck as the attack continued. To gain some type of footing, some tanks tried to advance over the few narrow roadways that could be used, but these attracted heavy German artillery fire and many were knocked out. This blocked the road for those behind, and they in turn became easy targets for the German guns. In the more open terrain, the stalled tanks were hit by artillery, too, but some managed to stay in action. Where they could bring their guns into play, they broke up German counterattacks, cleared out machine-gun positions, opened paths through the barbed wire, and silenced a number of pillboxes. Before the day ended, the British finally took their first and second objectives, but later a big German counterassault forced them back along one part of the line. After this setback, further British attacks were postponed until August 16. Again the tankmen bravely drove their vehicles out into the mud, and where they could find any kind of traction they were of great assistance to the infantry. But more often than not the conditions were hopeless and they ended up mired in swampy ground that sometimes rose completely above the hulls of the tanks and closed in over the tops.
Among many to
of the British commanders, these failures did little enhance the reputation of armor, and were not offset by the
The Tank On
the tanks performed well. But perform well they with a dash of brilliance, in one action. This was an attack on a group of German strongpoints in front of the village of St.-Julien. Twelve Mark IV tanks were supposed to help the infantry capture the area on August 16, but all of these became stuck and
to attack alone
— unsuccessfully. A new attack was
scheduled for August 19 and this time two
advancing only along a single cobblestone road that led right to the objective, without using any preliminary artillery preparation. But they did ask the gested that the tanks be allowed to attack
artillery to lay down some smoke shells to screen their movement from the German support lines. In the early predawn darkness, nine tanks clattered out onto the roadway and began the advance on St.-Julien. Two got stuck in crossing a stream when they slipped off the bundles of brushwood that had been dumped into the water to provide footing. The other
seven kept going.
The sun came up and German artillery began falhng on the road. Soon an avalanche of shells was coming down but the tanks kept advancing. Inside the tanks, the crews were hurled against the sides of their weaving, shding steel monsters, but the moving tanks were not an easy mark and they kept picking their way through the heaving terrain.
Almost simultaneously the concrete facing of one of the pillboxes suddenly loomed up directly in front of the leading tank, just as the cobblestone road ended. The tank careened o£P the end of the road onto the soft ground of the battlefield and headed directly for the bog down fifty yards from its objective. Decrew opened up with one 6-pounder and several machine guns, laying down such intense fire that the estimated one hundred Germans inside of the pillbox burst out the other side and tried to flee. Many were cut down by a hail of machine-gun
spite this predicament, the
Meanwhile, the other six tanks, one after the other, had plunged end of the cobblestone road and fanned out in various directions to take on their own assigned targets. One of these, trying to work around behind the second strongpoint, a blockhouse, also became stuck. The tank ended up with one side facing the blockhouse, giving the 6-pounder gunner on that side a point-blank shot at the off the
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare sealed door of the fortification.
The gunner took
"Carooooooom!" The door of the blockhouse shook but held. Another shot seemed to shake the entire blockhouse, but still the door held. Several more shots produced the desired result, however. The badly shaken Germans inside surrendered. More of the tanks wheeled in behind the strongpoints and blasted them with cannon and machine guns. White flags were seen flying everywhere and the ground was littered with those who tried to fight or make a run for it. The British infantry came pounding up the road, threading their way through the continuing German artillery bombardment, but the fight was all over and St.-Julien was in British hands. The cost? Two infantrymen killed and twenty-seven wounded in an operation that the British divisional commanders had estimated would involve six hundred to one thousand casualties. Unfortunately, such successes were not what was going into the official British reports on the offensive. General Gough, the Fifth
disparaged the work of the tanks.
army's reports on tanks about this time said: "They are slow, vulner-
and very susceptible to bad going. The going on a battlefield always be bad ... it would appear that the morale effect of their appearance is diminishing rapidly." able,
This and similar reports were indeed a bitter reward for the of the
Tank Corps whose Book
Honor shows one hundred and
seven decorations awarded for bravery during the Third Battle of Ypres,
But now, with the Ypres offensive staggering on toward its final bloody end, the tankmen knew as never before that they were on trial. There was talk now of abandoning the Corps. Earlier plans for doubling its strength to six brigades, with a total of eighteen battalions, were put aside. The chips were down. Some way had to be found to prove that armor could do what its commanders said it could do Smash a gaping hole in German defenses and bring much nearer a successful end to the war. :
Cambrai! Plans for just such a major tank operation had been under consideration for
time. After the July 31 slaughter at Passchendaele,
C. Fuller, the
Corps' chief general staff officer,
drew up a plan for a great tank raid and submitted it to GHQ on August 3. It stated very bluntly that "to go on using tanks in the present conditions" that is, in the flooded, marshy area near Ypres "is a total waste of both men and equipment." For the infantry,
at colossal loss
Third Battle of Ypres
only be continued
armored blow be directed at the town of St.-Quentin. This was promptly turned down. Undaunted, he submitted a second plan the next day, calling for a tank raid south of Cambrai lasting eight to twelve hours "to destroy the enemy's personnel and guns, to demoralize and disorganize him and not to capture ground." He suggested that three tank brigades of two battalions each, and one or two divisions of infantry or cavalry, plus artillery, be employed. The idea was to advance, hit the enemy, and Fuller proposed instead that a heavy
to the original starting positions.
The proposed area
was high and dry ground south where the Ypres offensive was floundering. It was fine country for tank operations. The rolling terrain was firm and not seriously torn up by previous fighting. And the suggested zone of attack was set off from surrounding areas by canals on each side. The area to be hit extended from Bullecourt south to Villers-Guislain, which lay opposite the city of Cambrai, some seven miles behind the Germans' Hindenburg line. This sector was in the British Third Army's area commanded by General Sir Julian Byng. He liked the plan and proposed that it be expanded from a raid into an attempt to break through and capture for this raid
of the bogs of Flanders
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare Cambrai. But General Haig's chief of staff, General Kiggell, immediately objected, saying that the British army could not carry out offensives both at Cambrai and in the Ypres area at the same time.
said all available
material were needed to continue the
fighting at Ypres.
In the face of this resistance, the proposed tank operation was postponed indefinitely and the slaughter of British infantrymen at Ypres went on. But as the terrible failure at Ypres became increasingly obvious to the British commanders during the succeeding weeks, the suggested Cambrai attack began to look more and more promising as a means of recovering lost prestige. Finally the operation was revived and approved on October 13 and detailed planning began, aiming for a jump-off date of November 20.
Six infantry and two cavalry divisions, 1,000 guns, 378 fighting
and about 100 other older tanks, to be used for supply and maintenance operations, were assigned to what had now been enlarged into an offensive rather than a raid. General Byng's plan was to smash through the Hindenburg line defenses between the Canal de L'Escaut and the Canal du Nord, seize Cambrai and Bourlon Wood, and continue the drive across the Sensee River in the directanks,
tion of Valenciennes.
The Tank Corps, convinced that this was its last chance to avoid being disbanded, drew up detailed recommendations on how the tanks, infantry,
should work together. One of the
— that there be no preliminary preparation in order help achieve maximum surprise — ran into immediate objections
from General Haig. He said he the tanks alone to flatten the
felt that it
would be impossible for
sufficiently for the infantry
to get through. To settle the issue an exact reproduction of the Hindenburg line defenses was constructed behind the British lines and a field day was set aside to see what the tanks could do. They rolled through the wire easily and the infantry had no difficulty following. Another Tank Corps recommendation was that some type of device be developed quickly to help the tanks get across the very wide and deep German trenches in the Cambrai area. Colonel Oliphant, commander of a tank salvage and workshops company, was given fourteen days to solve this problem and did so with great efficiency. With the help of one thousand Chinese laborers and some old tanks, he set out to bind together 450 huge bundles of brushwood, called
Tanks and Armor
fascines, which could be dropped in the German entrenchments and used as a bridging device by the tanks. Trucks were dispatched to wooded areas in the immediate zone and they returned in a steady stream with brushwood which was dumped at OHphant's encampment. Two wire cables were laid on the ground, parallel to each other. The Chinese workers piled the
brushwood on top of the cables. Then the cables were passed over the top of the pile and attached to two waiting tanks which pulled in opposite directions until the bundle had been compressed as much as possible. Workmen then fastened the cables together and the fascine was complete. Each weighed appoximately 1-% tons. This was dangerous work because of the tremendous pressure in each bundle. If a cable broke, anyone standing nearby could be killed by the flying ends. A number did break but only one Chinese was killed and only a small number of British and Chinese were injured in the entire operation.
Once completed, the fascines were transported to the tank areas where they were mounted on the front of each armored vehicle in such a manner that they could be rolled forward and off the tank by releasing a lever inside. Next a highly successful drill was worked out for using them. It was decided that the tanks would attack in three waves, with each tank working with the tank behind it in getting across the three lines of the German defense system. The lead tank was to advance to the first German line, turn to its left, blaze away at the Germans in the entrenchment with all the guns it could bring to bear. While the first tank pinned down the German defenses in this manner the second tank was to follow, drop its fascine in the German trench, cross, advance to the second line, then wheel to the left and repeat the tactics used by the first tank. The third tank meanwhile would advance, cross the first line on the second tank's fascine, drop its own fascine in the second German entrenchment, cross, and then attack the third German line as the other two tanks had the first two. Once this was done, the first tank was to break off its attack on the first German line, leaving any necessary mopping up of resistance to the British infantry which was
immediately behind the third tank. The first tank would then cross on the fascines laid down by the other two tanks and deposit its own brushwood bundle in the final line of German defense, completing a triple bridging operation while simultaneously keeping tJie Germans under heavy attack at all times. to follow
Cambrail Other preparations for the attack were carried out with equal care. Tanks and troops were moved up by rail at night and kept under cover during the day. No visible increase in aerial activity was permitted in the area. There was no rotation of troops and no registering shots by the artillery to pinpoint targets all of which would have been tip-offs to the Germans that an attack was coming. The artillery was authorized to fire some smoke shells when the attack began and to fire on German artillery positions, but none of this was to take place before the tanks were on their way. On November 19, the eve of the attack, reconnaissance parties laid broad white tapes from tank assembly areas to the final formin g-up positions. That night the tanks eased forward in low gear,
lights, following the tapes.
added up to a tank-infantry operation which for the first time had been carefully planned to fit the strengths and limitations of armor, and now all was ready. The attack was to be made on a seven-mile front. On the left, and slowly moving forward toward the final line from which the attack would be launched, was G Tank Battalion with one company from E Battalion attached. On their right in sequence were E, D, H, B, A, I, F, and C Battalions. Matching this ahgnment of armor, and also starting from the left, were the 62nd, 51st Highlander, the 6th, 20th, and 12th Infantry All of this
There was one fatal weakness in the plan no reserves. In vain Colonel Fuller argued that two of the tank battalions should be held back. And it was pointed out, too, that massing the tanks for powerthan spreading them across would be a more effective use of armor. But while other Fuller recommendations had been largely accepted, these two were not, and it was too late to push them further, for the battle was about to begin. Darkness settled over the front, and in the early morning hours a heavy mist moved in to drape the ground with ghostly layers of foggy white. Sergeant Jim Allnatt edged his G Battalion tank "Graveful assaults
specific targets, rather
the entire front of the operation,
digger" slowly forward through this floating unreal world, as the
hours before attack began. Grave-digger lumbered over the and kept inching forward deeper and deeper into a no-man's-land until it was only twenty-five yards from the first German outpost trenches. Promptly at 6:20 a.m. the first smoke shells from the artillery whistled by overhead and the attack was
final British trench
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare officially on.
AUnatt, shifting quickly into second gear, was astride trench in less than half a minute. His gunners
laced the trench with machine-gun
in both directions. AUnatt
came down hard on
the throttle and went grinding forward again toward the first of the main German entrenchments. Machine-gun bullets began beating a tattoo on the sides of the tank and the first rounds of German artillery in response to the attack came
in no-man's-land behind him. But Allnatt's tank
plunged straight ahead, right into the German wire in front of the main German trenches, as the rising sun slowly spread light over the battlefield and burned away the mist. It was a weird and terrifying sight that greeted the Germans. Terrible, unearthly shaped monsters were bursting out of the morning fog, bearing down on them with guns blazing and some sort of huge, weird bundles perched on top of their steel noses. Exploding smoke shells half obscured the scene and the roar of hundreds of motors filled the air on all sides. So complete was the surprise, so sudden the appearance of the tanks, and so unusual their outline with the fascines on top, that some of the German units panicked and fled. Others stood their ground bravely. Some German soldiers even tried to climb onto the tanks, force open a hatch, and drop grenades inside. Sergeant AUnatt
more and more
sluggish untU he decided to halt
he peered through a rear peephole, there trailing behind him mass of barbed wire as big as a house, being dragged along by the tank. He had to cut it loose before going farther, then discovered when he got to the Hindenburg line that his fascine had been shot away. AUnatt decided to cross anyway. He dropped the nose of the tank slowly over the edge of the broad German entrenchment. The tank teetered for a moment, then slid quickly, nose first,
into the trench.
tracks spun, took hold.
dropped into the trench, advanced a few feet and nose rose as the steel cleats bit into the embankment. The front end reared up abruptly, half of the tank shot toward the sky, clear of the rear bank, then the tank tilted forward and all thirty tons came crashing down on the solid ground beyond the trench. On the left and right of the assault, the tanks and infantry swept forward rapidly, blasting and tearing their way through whatever entire tank
at the rear wall. Slowly the
Cambrail hasty resistance the surprised Germans could muster. But in the center, problems soon
Major General Harper, commanding the 51st Highlanders in this area, had at one time opposed development of the machine gun and later objected to having tanks work with his division. When the Cambrai attack was planned, he termed it "a fantastic and most unmilitary scheme," and refused to accept the basic tactics laid
as the best
tween tanks and infantry. Instead of having the foot soldiers advance in single-file columns immediately behind the final wave of tanks, he ordered the tanks to proceed well to the front and insisted that the infantry advance in a line spread across his assigned sector. All went well for a time. The first objective, a dry riverbed called Grand Ravin, was taken, but after that the infantry began to lose contact with the tanks just as the armor ran into an unexpected obstacle in front of the village of Flesquires, the tanks' second objective in the area. A specially trained German artillery battery had been set up behind emplacements in the open there, rather than in pits as most batteries would have been. These guns promptly began picking off the D Battalion tanks as rapidly as they appeared on the skyhne of a ridge in front of Flesquires. Sixteen tanks were knocked out by the German battery that day as it employed new tactics which actually made its weapons the world's first truly successful antitank guns. Because of the way the artillery pieces were situated, they could be elevated and depressed quickly and could shift their direction of fire, just as antitank guns specifically designed for that purpose were to be handled in another
war many years Several
and shot up was no infantry with them and
Battalion tanks finally got by the battery
the defenders of Flesquires but there
the attack stalled.
the right of this sector,
came rumbling up
over a low rise and rolled forward in a long majestic the middle of the formation an officer
riding with his head
shoulders extending out of the top of the tank, and snapping in the
him was a huge green, red, and brown This proud officer was Brigadier General Hugh EUes, who had recently been promoted. He was carrying the Tank Corps' new flag
breeze on a long staff beside flag.
into battle for the first time.
Tanks and Armor
tanks and EUes had to crawl down inside the tank. He was later seen marching calmly up and down the first German trench line after
and still carrying the flag. Battalion tank that saw lots of action that day was directing fire
named "Harrier." It crossed
trench fine quickly
up and down the machine guns blazing. Satisfied that this was no longer a profitable target, the crew headed the tank for the village of Ribecourt where it ralhed with other H Battalion tanks. After a few moments of milling around, the tanks opened an assault on their final objective the third trench line of the Hindenburg and shot up the second
in a long series of sweeps
The tanks spread out and rolled forward. Off to their right ancame up rapidly with their fascines still in
other group of tanks
and final German trench fine. Groups of infantry from the 6th Division followed close behind
place, ready to drop in the third
Flanking shots from the troublesome Flesquires battery that had up D Battahon, began to tear up the ground around the H Battalion tanks, but they kept advancing. Topping a hill, the tank crews looked down on the plain of Cambrai. Stately poplar trees shot
Bapaume-Cambrai road off' to the left a picturesque scene but there was no time for enjoying the view. Just at that moment more tanks came clattering over the hill and began to descend.
There was the crack of the Flesquires guns again and a tank close to Harrier
into a torch.
later a shell
into Harrier, sending one of the tracks flying through the air.
other shot tore off the roof of the tank and a third crashed into the
engine compartment. The tank stopped dead and the crew piled out. Miraculously no one was hurt.
B Battahon Together with the infantry assigned to work with them, they took all their objectives by 1 1 00 a.m. They sent a message back for the cavalry to come up and continue Still
farther to the right of
tanks had a
Battalion, a section of
easier time of
When the horsemen pushed on forward until they were blocked by a leftward swing in the L'Escaut Canal at a point about three miles from Cambrai. Not a German was in sight anywhere, but the tanks could go no farther and had to return and wait for the the assault, as called for in the original plan. did not
show up, two
of the tanks
later in the
day that three squadrons
They deployed and advanced cautiously on Cambrai but the opportunity that had existed when the tanks first arrived was now gone. The Germans had moved in to seal off the penetration and throw up defenses in front of the town. A hail of machine-gun fire from their newly dug positions halted the cavof cavalry finally arrived.
Everywhere now, except in the Flesquires area, the attack was up huge gains. Even close to the right of the stalled 51st Highlanders' attack, A and I Battalions were pouring through a
gaping hole in the German into the outskirts of
British patrols penetrated
in that area without encountering
resistance, but by the time
attack on the town could be mounted,
an infantry and cavalry
met the same
fate as the
B Battalion sector. I Battahon, working on the right of A Battalion, went into combat for the first time in the Cambrai offensive. It was ordered to attack across a valley partly flooded in its lower areas by drainage from the attack attempted in the
surrounding terrain. This presented a major obstacle, and much to the tankers' dismay they also discovered that a village nearby was
Germans who had turned it into a fortified Adding to these difficulties was the Flesquires artillery battery which kept throwing in deadly accurate shots from its position far to the battalion's left. A number of I tanks were knocked out by this fire before the main assault force was able to push the heavily defended by the strongpoint.
of the village.
While I Battahon was taking this punishment, F and C Battalions on the extreme right flank of the assault were brushing aside weak German resistance in a spectacular leap forward that was to finally take care of the Germans' troublesome Flesquires artillery position.
of the attack carried across the triple line of Hin-
denburg entrenchments quickly. Some of the F Battalion tanks swept around to the left and came in behind the German guns. Their 6-pounders opened up, leaving each of the German positions a black and smoking hole, strewn with dead and dying men. While this attack was under way, other F Battahon tanks waddled up to L'Escaut Canal and tried to cross on a partly damaged steel bridge. The bridge promptly gave way, and it was decided that other bridges nearby, all wooden, could not take tanks either. In the late 57
Tanks and Armor
afternoon, a squadron of Canadian cavalry and
some infantry did
Swinging into a brisk gallop, the Canadians descended on a German artillery battery across the canal and promptly overran it. They rounded up prisoners and withdrew to await reinforcements from the Cavalry Corps so that a much more powerful thrust could be mounted. But once again it was too late when the attack was resumed. A fresh German division had been rushed into the area. Over on the extreme right of the battlefield, one C Battahon tank had to fight from the moment the attack began. There were no other supporting British forces on that flank. The tank's 6-pounders kept blasting German strongpoints, laying in rounds in quick succession, and then the machine guns would cut down the defending Germans as they tried to flee. The tank finally reached the Hindenburg line, dropped its fascine, and crossed. Suddenly a German artillery battery opened up on the right and the tank took a direct hit. The crew scrambled out and took off at a dead run for the nearest German trench two hundred yards away. When they arrived, the tank commander discovered his back-up gunner was missing. Under heavy enem.y fire he made his way back to the tank, hauled the wounded man out, and got him back to the trench. Moments later the crew was attacked by twenty heavily armed Germans who emerged from dugouts farther down the trench. The tankers were forced to flee cross.
and leave the wounded man behind. As word of such adventures filtered back to GHQ and were added to similar reports coming in from other sectors of the battlefield. General Haig began to put together a picture of the fighting that amazed even the most doubtful of his staff officers. By the time darkness fell over the shattered German front, it had become apparent that the tanks had opened a hole six miles wide and five miles deep
— except in the Flesquires area — in the German defense
a one-day gain, greater than
entire Passchendaele, four-month-long offensive. In the process,
German divisions were overrun, scattered, and virtuaUy destroyed. One hundred and twenty guns and seventy-five hundred prisoners were captured, and all this at a cost of four thousand British casualties, compared to the 400,000 who were killed, wounded, or captured at "Bloody Passchendaele."
So great was the victory that church bells were rung throughout Britain in celebration and an entire new era of warfare was ushered
could no longer be doubted that tanks,
the potential striking power
that their officers
claiming for them, and that they were indeed a weapon capable of once again restoring movement to warfare.
There was another significant development that day, too, although its meaning was not quite as clearly realized at the time as the tank's belatedly discovered talents. This the very skillful
was the significance of The direct-fire tactics
battery at Flesquires.
crews were clearly the forerunner of the highly effective antitank guns the Germans and other nations were to develop later as a primary means of defense against tanks. The British Command now realized too late, it soon became
a magnificent opportunity to deal a much more staggering blow to the Germany army had presented itself. If the fifty divisions thrown into the Ypres offensive had been available,
or even a major fraction of them, at the
defenses were torn open, the British could have crashed through deep into the Germans' vulnerable rear areas and perhaps forced the
into a general retreat.
Unfortunately, there were no such reserves now. They had all been used up in the fighting at Ypres. But, after considerable scrambling about, three divisions were rounded
their way toward the Third Army's suddenly bulging front. As fighting resumed on November 21, the British were holding Masnieres and Marcoing on the right, and Anneux just short of Bourlon Wood on the left. From these advance positions, the British hne dipped back more than a mile to the 51st Highlanders' front facing Flesquires, but this situation was corrected when the Germans evacuated Flesquires before dawn. Then the Scots and the 62nd Division both pushed forward rapidly until they captured Fontaine-Notre Dame, about one and a half miles beyond the British positions at Anneux, Masnieres, and Marcoing. In the following days, the Germans fought back desperately, try-
ing to stabilize their front while they prepared a strong counteroffensive to force the British back to their original positions.
November 22 the Germans recaptured Fontaine-Notre Dame, but on November 23 had to give up Bourlon Wood to attacking British tanks and 41st Division infantrymen. The British tried to push beyond the woods into the
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare Fontaine-Notre
as well, but
make httle or no headway had been rushed forward just in time to occupy a rear defense line late on November 20. Other difficulties were also developing. When the attack was first planned, Colonel Fuller had set a forty-eight-hour limit as the maximum time the tanks should be kept in operation. That limit had long ago expired and the tank crews were exhausted, their vehicles in bad shape, and there were no reserve tank units to relieve those that had been fighting almost continuously for three days. There were also ominous signs that the Germans were massing troops on the right, near the base of the British salient. General Snow, the VII Corps commander, warned GHQ that he expected a heavy German attack in that area and General Jeudwine, the 55th Division commander, requested that the neighboring III Corps artillery bombard Banteaux Ravine, where he thought the Germans were assembling, the right, too, the British could
against a fresh
Unfortunately, the requested
just before daylight the next day. artillery attack
had asked that it
hour Jeudwine begin, the Germans streamed out of the ravine and carried out
at the very
The Germans hit the British with a short hurricane bombardment of gas and smoke shells and then stabbed through the British the same type of attack lines with a series of infiltrating advances they were to use successfully in their 1918 spring offensive. The Germans pushed quickly through the openings they forced in the
advance into a torrent, and quickly seized the villages of Genelieu and Billers-Guislain. They kept going
until they captured Gouzeaucourt.
At the same time a German attack near Bourlon Wood in the north was beaten off but the Germans had suddenly reversed the situation on the Cambrai front, from one of extreme danger to their
defenses to one endangering
of the troops that the British
had pumped into the Cambrai attack. The German attack in the south had carried almost a third of the way across the base of the British salient. The British hurled a tank brigade and a guards division against the Germans at Gouzeaucourt and finally recaptured the village. This temporarily eased the danger, but the
sure kept building
the southern flank until finally the British
had gained by the Cambrai By November 30 the battle W3is over and most of the ground gained had been given up. For both the tankmen and the infantry who fought at Cambrai this was a frustrating and disappointing end to an assault that
to start pulling out of the area they
began with such overwhelming British victories. Although the operation was far better planned than any in which tanks had participated in any great numbers up to that time, there were fatal flaws in the preparation that were not recognized by the British command until it was too late. The lack of reserves was the most serious. The decision to confine an offensive operation between two bordering canals was another. Students of the battle have said this was an excellent idea for the original tank raid proposed by Colonel Fuller, which involved no attempt to hold captured ground. But in a smallscale offensive, the canals became an obstacle to proper protection of both flanks.
Yet despite these errors, the battle, over the years, has been recognized as one of the most significant in military history. It clearly demonstrated that tanks were the answer to the stalemate caused by the machine gun, barbed wire, and entrenchments. It was a classic upon which the armored forces of many nations were later founded, and a turning point in modern warfare. Germany in particular absorbed the lessons of Cambrai and put them to a deadly use we will
learn about later.
The French, Germans, and Americans Get the Tank While Britain was forging the armored thunderbolt that led to the startling success at Cambrai, the French were pursuing a similar but separate effort to create and use armored, track-laying vehicles. In fact, development of the tank in France sprang from the same source as that of the British
— the Holt Caterpillar Tractor. Early in
the war. Colonel (later General) officer
E. Baptiste Estienne,
long been interested in armored cars, saw the Holt
move large artillery pieces. He making it into an armored fighting
tractor being used by the British to
quickly conceived the idea of vehicle equipped with
cannon and machine guns.
Colonel Estienne interested General Joffre, the French com-
he laid his Le Creusot in December, 1915. A design was quickly completed and four hundred tanks were ordered, followed two months later by an order for four hundred more to be designed and constructed by the Compagnie des Forges d'Homecourt at St.-Chamond. These first two French tanks became known as the Schneider and the St.-Chamond. They were clumsy, turretless vehicles, both little more than boxes of armor plate placed on chassis copied from the Holt tractor. The 23-ton St.-Chamond was operated by a crew of nine and armed with a 75-millimeter cannon and four machine guns. The Schneider, weighing 13.5 tons, also had a 75-millimeter gun, two machine guns, and a crew of seven. While they were under construction, General Estienne learned in chief, in this project.
idea before the Schneider
for the first time of Britain's very secret efforts to develop a tank.
in June, 1916,
The French, Germans, and Americans Get
surprised to learn of the very carefully guarded French preparations
armored warfare. Estienne promptly proposed that both nations delay using their tanks until they could launch a surprise joint offensive with thousands of tanks and strike a decisive blow in the war. for
on making larger tanks, and the French on making smaller ones. This, he said, would hasten development of both types. His very sound idea for temporarily withholding the tank was considered by the British but dropped without notifying the French when General Haig decided that the tanks had to be used in the September 15, 1916, attack on the Somme. But Estienne's suggestion that the French switch their emphasis to lighter tanks was
also proposed that the British concentrate their efforts
The first Schneider and St.-Chamond tanks were delivered the same month as the British launched their tank attack on the Somme. Serious weaknesses soon became apparent and Estienne took up the idea of creating a lighter tank with Louis Renault, owner of a French motor firm. The result of their conversations was the Renault F.T., a two-man six-and-a-half-ton tank with an operating range of twenty-five to thirty miles and a top speed of 4.8 miles per hour. It was armed with either a single machine gun or a short 37-millimeter cannon. Unlike the Schneider and St.-Chamond, it had a turret that could be turned in any direction an innovation that was eventually
be used in
With three tanks now in various stages of production, the French were slowly developing an armored force which they at first called Artillerie d'Assault or, more simply, assault artillery. Actually, an entirely new concept of using armor was involved in the name. It called for the tanks to follow the infantry, moving forward to take over the role of artillery after the attack had progressed beyond the point where big field guns could be of help to the foot soldier. Strangely, this tactic was not used in the first French tank attack of the war on April 16, 1917. A total of 128 Schneiders, organized into eight groups of sixteen tanks each, were lined up in front of the infantry and launched against strong German positions on a ridge called Chemin des Dames, near Reims. The Schneiders broke down, had trouble with the shell-torn terrain, and found the Germ.an
These weaknesses had already been suspected and were also showing up in field trenches
too wide for their short tracks to span.
Tanks and Armor
St.-Chamond. Both were soon dropped from production. Efforts were now concentrated on the Renault F.T., and its intended role in battle was changed back to a concept much closer to that used by the British namely, accompanying or immediately preceding the infantry. It was planned that when sufficient numbers of Renaults had accumulated they would be launched en masse against the Germans, but these plans were interrupted by Germany's tests of the
win the war. The Germans had many new divisions had been brought in from the Russian front, where the Russians had suffered a series of defeats. In March of 1917, Russia's Czar Nicholas II had been forced to abdicate because of the serious unrest in his nation, and in December of 1917 the new Russian provisional government had signed a truce with Germany. Three months later a formal peace agreement was reached and France and Britain's eastern ally was taken out of the war completely. As a result, with the bulk of their eastern armies released, the Germans built up their strength rapidly in the west. Early on the morning of March 21, 1918, four thousand German guns suddenly opened a gigantic bombardment of the British positions in front of Amiens. Sixty-three divisions surged forward. By sunset the Germans had swept over forty miles of the British front and seven days later were close to Amiens, a penetration of forty miles. This sudden storm broke with a maximum of surprise and again demonstrated the skillful new infiltration tactics which the Germans had used in their counteroffensive at Cambrai. Assault groups armed vnth automatic rifles, machine guns, and light mortars were sent out in front of the main German armies. They struck hard and pushed on through the British lines wherever they could find an opening. Reconnaissance parties following them helped steer the main forces toward these openings. The idea was to pour troops as last big effort to
available for the attack. These
rapidly as possible through these troops in to
spots, to direct reserves
back up any success instead of throwing overcome failure in areas where the attack was not
through them, and
The bombardment began
at 4:30 a.m. and it pounded British two hours; then it was turned upon the British trenches. British telephone and telegraph communications were knocked out, artillery for
and a low-lying fog made visual signaling impossible, 64
— The French, Germans, and Americans Get
German assault. At 9:40 German infantry then began its
rupting efforts to counter the unfolding
A.M. on most areas of the front, the
Accompanying them jn one area that day were the first two detachments of tanks organized by the Germans. One was made up of five captured British tanks; the other was made up of five A7V's the first German-produced tank. This huge, lumbering vehicle had followed much the same rocky road of development that British tanks had encountered. Even after the first use of tanks by the British on the Somme, the German High Command demonstrated little interest in developing a German tank. But eventually a German trans-
named Werner designed what came to be called the A7V Sturmpanzerwagen (roughly, "Armored Storm Car"). The chassis for this vehicle was completed in May of 1917, and the first tank in December of that year. It was a boxy, turretless vehicle manned by a crew of eighteen, and was armed with a 57-millimeter gun and six machine guns. All this was mounted on a tractor frame propelled by a Daimler engine at a maximum speed of eight miles per port officer
came bursting out of the fog near German offensive began to roll. It
this strange vehicle that
helped overcome British strongpoints, knocked out machine guns, and generally assisted in the quick capture of the first allied trenches.
of the five A7V's stayed in action that day
broke down. The
tanks fared even worse.
and one got
down, two were shot up by Under the weight of the German blows, the British front sagged, then buckled, and the Royal Tank Corps, reorganized and expanded after the Battle of Cambrai, was rushed forward to help stem the the Mark V and the fast, tide. The Corps now had two new tanks hght Mark A "Whippet" tank developed for use in exploiting opportunities for breakthroughs like those that had been fumbled by the horse cavalry at Cambrai. The Mark V had thicker armor, a more powerful motor, and an improved gearbox which permitted the driver to do all the shifting, thus eliminating the two gearsmen that earlier tank crews had required. The Whippet weighed only fourteen tons and was capable of a maximum speed of 8.3 miles per hour, compared with 4.6 miles per hour for the Mark V. It was armed with four Hotchkiss machine guns in a fixed turret. Five of the Tank British artillery,
Tanks and Armor
Corps' battalions were equipped with the new Mark A's or Whippets and were designated as Light Tank Battahons. Nine were equipped with the Mark V's and other vehicles in the earlier Mark series and were called Heavy Battalions. The letter designations for the battalions were also dropped and numbers substituted a system that still holds in most armored battalions today. With this new equipment, the Tank Corps went into action on March 22, the second day of the German offensive, in an effort to shore up the British front. Thirty tanks were thrown against the
at Vauxvraucourt, temporarily halting the
vance. But of these, seventeen were put out of action and more than half of the tank crewmen were wounded or killed. Again and again the British tanks were used to throw back the onrushing German
buying time as their own infantry fell back, trying to stabilize their front. Entire battahons were shot up in these efforts. The losses were heavy but a new capability of the tank was also being demonstrated: It could be used as a weapon of defense to counterattack an attacking army, maul his advance forces, and at times even cut into his rear areas. divisions,
assault in the
tained and brought under control, but a fell
was gradually con-
new and heavy blow soon
British forces to the north in the area
between Ypres and
April 9, 1918, General Erich von Ludendorff, the Ger-
opened the second stage of his 1918 offensive, hurling nine divisions against a sector lightly held by three allied
two Portuguese and one British. The Portuguese were overwhelmed and Ludendorff rushed an additional seven divisions into the battle. This attack, too, was finally brought under control but before the fighting ended the first tank-against-tank duel in the history of the world had been fought. This engagement grew out of an assault by fourteen German tanks and four German infantry divisions near Villers-Brettoneux on April 24, 1918. One of the German tanks did not make it to the divisions
British lines, but the thirteen that did poured a withering fire into British
machine-gun positions and helped round up thousands of
allied prisoners. In the
this bruising attack
tank edged forward toward
— the high point — a British
armor in World War unique rendezvous with
in Germany's very limited use of
The French, Germans, and Americans Get the Tank Recorded details differ as to exactly what happened. The Gersay an A7V near Cachy in the Villers-Brettoneux area came rolling through the smoke of battle, spotted two British female tanks, knocked them out, then in turn was disabled by British
Second Lieutenant Frank Mitchell reported a somewhat
different version. His written account of the fight describes the
barrage of both explosive and gas shells, crew from the German mustard gas that left their eyes puffed and made large sores on their bodies. Suddenly he spotted three German tanks advancing with waves of German infantry about 300 yards away. Mitchell ordered his driver to head for the Germans, steering a zigzag course toward the nearest tank, and then opened fire. The shots missed as the rolling and swerving of the tank gave the gunners httle opportunity to sight in on their targets. German machine-gun fire rattled off the side of Mitchell's vehicle as the German tank responded to the attack. Mitchell directed his tank into a dip in the ground, rolled back out of range, and then maneuvered to get his port (left) side 6pounder on the target. The gunner on that side had a badly swollen right eye from the mustard gas and had to aim with his left, but he got off shot after shot as Michell headed back into the battle, his tank dipping in and out of shell holes. The 6-pounder shells burst all around the German tank just as another burst of machine-gun fire from the Germans raked Mitchell's tank. An armor-piercing bullet tore through the armor and wounded the rear machine gunner artillery
and the suffering of
in both legs.
time the fight between the tanks had become a drama in
the center of a stage.
infantrymen were watching tensely from their trenches, and the Germans nearby watched too. Finally Mitchell halted his tank to give his gunner a chance to get in a well-aimed shot. The next 6-pounder shell smashed into the upper part of the German tank. Another white puff at the front of the tank moments later recorded a second hit. The German tank halted. The final shot was aimed very carefully and smashed into the middle of the A7V. It seemed to settle over onto one side. A door
Tanks and Armor in
opened, and the crew came pouring out. The first tank-i;s-tank duel was over, but the most dangerous phase of the last German offensive was not.
:00 A.M. on
attack, this time in
27, 1918, Ludendorff again returned to the
an area south of
three and a half hours a storm of artillery fire
manned by both
came down on
and French forces between Reims and the area north of Soissons, along the same ridge Chemin des Dames that had been the target of the first French tank attack of April 16, 1917, when it was held by the Germans. At 4:30 a.m. the German infantry advanced. It was pouring across unblown bridges over the Aisne River by noon and three days later had troops on the Marne River, which had been the high-water mark of Germany's front
offensive in 1914.
The ensuing fighting was
brought German tanks back 1918, five A7V's and five captured
On June 1, were used against the French at Soissons, and five other A7V's against French forces at Reims, but the French, and the Americans, soon got revenge. On July 15, 1918, the Germans opened the second battle of the Marne with a massive assault at Chateau-Thierry, seeking a breakthrough. At first the attack gained ground. Then on July 18 the Americans and French counterattacked very sharply and forced the Germans to retreat in the Chateau-Thierry area. But the day was into action again. British tanks
The force of new Renalt F.T. tanks had been husbanding for a major blow against the Germans were rushed forward to participate in a general assault. While the Americans were winning their first victory at Chateau-Thierry, some 480 Renaults and a hastily summoned force of French reserves attacked in Cambrai fashion at Soissons without a preliminary artillery bombardment. The attack retook Soissons and two days later American and British troops joined the assault and forced the Germans slowly back to their original positions. The Renault, despite its light armament, proved a rehable and notable for other reasons, too. the French
useful tank in the subsequent fighting, but like the St.-Chamonds
and Schneiders it did not have the trench-crossing ability of the British tanks, and therefore was unable to achieve the significant penetrations that were possible with British armor. But by this time the strength of the entire German army and nation was ebbing and 68
The French, Germans, and Americans Get the Tank the Allies were preparing assaults with both infantry and tanks that
downhill toward ultimate defeat.
dawn on August
1918, the British and French
struck suddenly and savagely at a bulge in the
Amiens. Their purpose was
quickly achieved and the necessary small
of ground cap-
tured, but the results of the fight in their final impact
shove the Germans back from Amiens use of the railroad feeding into that area. This goal was to
on the war
decisive than they at first appeared to the British
command. The victory was accomplished in the following manner. Very quickly the British built up the strength of their Fourth Army to thirteen infantry divisions, three cavalry divisions, more than two thousand big guns and howitzers, seventeen air squadrons, and ten heavy and two hght tank battalions 360 heavy and 96 Whippet tanks in all. Moved carefully and secretly into position, and with the full nature of the operation kept from the troops until the last
the attack gained a
At 4 30 A.M. the British heavy tanks burst out of their waiting positions and went churning through the fog toward the German lines while the first rounds from the British artillery swished through the air overhead. Only six skeleton German divisions were holding the fourteen miles of front selected for the assault. Caught completely :
was soon swept aside and the Canadian and Australian assault
their feeble resistance
tanks, followed closely by tough
plunged on deep into the German rear areas. attack, the British reserves were also started forward simultaneously a valuable lesson learned from the Germans' attack of March 21 and soon an avalanche of tanks, men, guns, equipment, and supplies were pouring through a wide hole in the German lines. While the tanks and infantry bolted forward, armored cars were sent racing down roads behind the German lines to spread confusion. Before the day was over, the attack had penetrated six to eight miles except on the extreme left and extreme right, but there it stalled, while sixteen thousand German prisoners were troops,
During the following thirteen days, the penetration was increased to twelve miles and the captured Germans to twenty-one thousand, a not overly impressive victory when measured against the great 69
Tanks and Armor
Germans had rolled up in their recently completed offenBut the surprise and timing of the assault, at a time when the Germans themselves were hoping to renew their offensive, shook the confidence of the German General Staff and seriously damaged the morale of the German troops and people. After the war General Ludendorff said that "August 8,  was the black day of the Gergains the sive.
in the history of the war."
German front with a whole series of assaults. The British Third Army hit the Germans north of Albert on August 21. The British First Army struck farther north on August 28 and the Fourth Army returned to the attack on August 31. Then on September 12, Americans fighting together as an army for the first time stormed through the German lines to a swift and brilThe
hant victory St.-Mihiel
to batter the
penetration sixteen miles
deep in the flank of the main French armies near the fortress city of Metz. For four years it had remained there, a constant threat to communications if the French were ever to resume the offensive in that area. General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, asked that the St.-Mihiel area be assigned to
The French, Germans, and Americans Get
the rapidly expanding United States Army and reached agreement with General Foch on a plan to wipe out the salient. The plan called for seven American divisions to attack the salient from its southern side and one American and four French divisions to strike it almost simultaneously from its western side. The newest of American arms, the Tank Corps, AEF, was unveiled in that action. It had been a long
time in the making.
had been sent to Paris long before the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. The mission observed the poor performance of British tanks in 1916 and in the early part of 1917 and in reports to Washington pronounced them a failure the general view then held in British command military mission
General Pershing arrived in France, however, he
ordered a restudy which resulted in a decision to organize a U.S. tank force, which was officially created on January 26, 1918. Colonel S. D. Rockenbach was appointed its chief and was assigned the task of forming one heavy and two light tank battalions immediately. The heavy battalion, eventually to be equipped with British
Mark IV and V tanks, emerged from a training center set up in February of 1918, at Bovington Camp, Dorsetshire, England, the permanent base of the Royal Tank Corps in Britain. A total of fiftyeight officers and thirty-eight enlisted men were initially assigned to the training center to attend the various courses ofPered by the British in the proper use of the tank. Many of this group served as instructors
A, B, and
what was eventually
be called the U.S. 301st Tank Battalion arrived in May. The battalion sailed for France late in August.
Meanwhile the U.S. 344th and 345th Light Tank Battalions were organized and trained in France and equipped with Renault F.T. tanks. When the American Army jumped off in the mist and drizzling rain at 5:00 a.m on September 12, 1918, to crush the St.-Mihiel salient, these two battalions, plus twenty-four other tanks organized in two groups, led the way. Plunging ahead with their clanking treads and chugging motors these pint-sized armored hornets crunched through the German wire and laced the first German trench with deadly machine-gun fire while the attacking doughboys came pounding along close behind them. Then their troubles began. Some of the tanks got stuck. Few could cross the German trench. Others broke down. By the 71
Tanks and Armor end of the day the
was: 174 tanks started the attack
— 5 were
destroyed by shells or mines, 21 developed mechanical trouble, 23 became hopelessly mired. More troubles plagued the brigade in the
ensuing days of the offensive. Mud, inabihty to obtain fuel when needed, mechanical failures, and congestion on the roads virtually paralyzed the tank units, making their
commander a very angry and man. He was Major George S. Patton, Jr. a name that would be heard from again and again later in American armored
But while the tanks had their difficulties, the American assault was a smashing success and by September 14 the salient had been completely wiped out. And four days later, on September 18, the tanks went back into action again as nine American divisions with three in reserve launched a new offensive toward Mezieres from a frontline sector west of the St.-Mihiel battlefield near Verdun. Covering the left third of the twenty-mile front of attack was the dense and treacherous Ardennes Forest, a tough, but as a whole
not insurmountable, barrier. To soften up the German resistance before the main assault, 2,700 guns bombarded the German lines
5:30 a.m. the infantry jumped off, accompanied by 189 Renault fight tanks, 142 of them manned by Americans, 47 by Frenchmen. Much of the terrain involved in this MeuseArgonne attack was too rough and shell-torn for the small Renaults to travel across, but they were thrown in anyway to knock out machine guns and batter down German strongpoints. for three hours.
The fighting was
and bloody. After early sweeping advances of the early assault was lost and the Germans rushed up reserve divisions to hold back the strong and continuous American attacks. Slowly the Germans were forced back, exacting a heavy price in American lives and tanks. As the number of tanks dwindled rapidly. General Pershing said he would give "anything in the A.E.F. for five hundred additional tanks," but there was no way to get replacements. And when the war ended on November 1 1 with the Meuse-Argonne attack still under way, the 344th and 345th Tank Battalions had dwindled to only a fraction of their original strength in both men and machines. While the 344th and 345th battalions were undergoing their trials of fire in the St.-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne fighting, the U.S. 301st Battalion was being equipped with British Mark IV and V tanks and on both
The French, Germans, and Americans Get
battalion fought for the first time near
on September 28. On October 8, both the 301st Battalion and the British 6th Tank Battalion were assigned to support the 27th and 30th American divisions which were participating in a new offensive launched by the British under General Haig. The tanks smashed through the German defenses and reached their objectives
near Mont Brahain. The 301st also fought well in a later attack at Brancourt where it made good use of tanks equipped with wireless sets, which GHQ had finally permitted the Tank Corps to have. The wireless provided information on progress of the assault. And on October 23 the 301st jumped off in a night attack in support of the British 6th Division assault on German positions in and near Bois L'Evegue, L'Planty, and Guintimount
Farm near Le Gateau. The German positions with
tanks turned in a fine performance, riddling
machine guns and helping the infantry advance. This was the final American tank action of the war. The 301st was withdrawn on October 25 to a training area where preparations for a rapid expansion of the U.S. tank force were made. The American command planned to create fifteen brigades of tanks, each consisting of one battalion of heavy tanks and two of light tanks. Their vehicles were to be the newly proposed British Mark VllI, then still on the drafting boards, the French Renault six-ton M1917 tank, and two new light tanks designed by the Ford Motor Company a threeton, two-man, turretless tank and a somewhat larger three-man tank. their
All of these, including the proposed
tracks were to be produced in the United States. About one thou-
eventually were completed, most of
But events were now moving more swiftly than the American The German armies were in retreat by late September, 1918, battered being by the British on the left where the Hindenburg line defenses had been overwhelmed, by the Americans on the right in the Meuse-Argonne attack, and by the French in the center. The deterioration in German morale, first suspected after the British and French success at Amiens on August 8, had become serious and was plans.
spreading to the
As the German forces pulled back,
F. C. Fuller
unveiled a plan to send the Germans down to final defeat during the coming year. Called "Plan 1919," it was one of the most important
Tanks and Armor of in
emerge from World
modern warfare. Drawing heavily on
on the use of tanks
Cambrai and elsewhere, Fuller proposed that five thousand to ten thousand tanks be massed for this death-dealing stroke. Heavy tanks were to be used to smash through remaining German defenses. Then wave after wave of the new and faster Whippet-type tanks were to be sent racing through the gap to attack enemy communications and headquarters and exlessons learned at
breakthrough to its utmost, while truck-borne infantry followed in the wake of the fast-moving Whippets. The germ of an entirely new idea was involved here that of an armored formation
around the tank, not the infantry, and designed to exploit its strengths to the utmost. It was an idea that was not to be lost on the
in future years.
But before the plan could be put into effect, the exhausted German armies and nation collapsed. An armistice was signed. The final shots of World War I were fired on November 11, 1918, and silence fell over the battlefields of an immensely tragic and wasteful conflict.
years later, General A.W.H. von Zwehl, a
fought in those
is perhaps a fitting epitaph for the men who wheezing, coughing, tortuous machines called
consider that [the Allied
we were not beaten by
the genius of Marshal
commander], but by General Tank ... a new
of war, in conjunction with the widespread reinforcement
of the Americans."
Breakthrough in the West Germany's western front was blanketed in darkness. A few enemy now and then a rocket arched into the sky to illuminate the countryside. It was a quiet night, but the air was charged with tension. For nine months now a new Germany, risen from the ruins of World War I, had been at war again with France and Great Britain, the same two principal enemies that had defeated her twenty years
reconnaissance planes droned overhead, and
fanatical leadership of that half-genius, half-
Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, Germany had staged an amazing comeback. It had rearmed, absorbed Austria and Czecho-
slovakia without firing a shot, had crushed Poland in a whirlwind campaign of eighteen days, and had occupied Denmark and Norway with only minor fighting. Now it stood on the threshold of hurhng a massive assault against its last two major enemies in western
of that night of
preparations for that blow. Three giant
9, 1940, masked the final army groups were rumbling
through the darkness toward their final points of departure. On the north, approaching the borders of HoUand and northern Belgium,
was Army Group B, commanded by Colonel General Fedor von Bock. To his immediate south, rolling west in seemingly endless columns of men, machines, and horse-drawn vehicles, was Army Group A under the command of Colonel General Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt. And on his immediate southern flank. Army Group C, led by Colonel General Wilhelm von Leeb, was completing its deployments in front of France's formidable line of frontier fortresses known as the Maginot Line. The Maginot Line, however, only protected that part of the French border that faced Germany. It extended from Switzerland in the south to Luxembourg in the north. But from Luxembourg to the Channel coast, along the
Tanks and Armor
much weaker sometimes called the "Little Maginot Line." Not many miles to the west of the three German army groups, and fully aware of the terrible juggernaut that could be hurled their way at any time, were the tiny armies of Holland and Belgium, braced to defend their homelands as best they could, if and when the German blow should fall. Both Holland and Belgium knew that the armies of Britain and France were deployed along the FrenchBelgian border a few score miles to the south, and that the British and French were eager to help them. But tragically, in the forlorn hope that they might avoid provoking Hitler and somehow avert a Nazi invasion, Holland and Belgium had refused to allow the British and French forces to move into their countries to take up common defensive positions with the Belgian and Dutch forces. Only if the Germans attacked would they then permit this most necessary of defensive moves. The British and French had laid careful plans for just that expected development. Next to the coast of the English Channel the French had deployed their highly mobile Seventh Army, reaching from Bailleul to the sea. On its right was the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.), extending east to Maulde. On the British right was the French First Army whose eastern flank reached to the valley French-Belgian border, there was only a thin line of
of the Oise River.
successively to the right of these groups
were the French Ninth Army covering from the Oise to Sedan, and the French Second Army from Sedan to the Maginot Line. It
deployment on the basis of what the Western
then knew. They expected the German invasion again to follow the general outline of the SchliefFen Plan of World War I, but start farther north and swing a little wider this time to take in
Holland as well as Belgium in the wheeling movement of the heavily armed German right wing, sweeping down on the Western powers in another attempt to envelop their flank and pin them into a pocket from which they could not escape. To meet this expected type of attack, the most mobile units the Allies had were concentrated in the French Seventh and First Armies and the B.E.F. that is, those nearest the sea which would have the greatest distances to travel if and when they had to rush forward into Belgium and Holland in a wheeling movement of their own that pivoted on the French Second Army. This maneuver, if it could be completed successfully,
Breakthrough in the West
would bring them abreast of the Dutch and Belgian armies and provide a united front to meet the onrushing tide of German arms. At first the Germans had planned to do exactly what the Allies expected them to do give General von Bock's Army Group B all of the then-available ten German armored divisions to lead the main German onslaught down through Holland and Belgium. Then two seemingly unrelated events took place that changed their strategy :
The first was the misflight of a German courier aircraft. It lost its way and landed in Belgian territory. The officer on board was carry-
German plan for the Schlieffen-type assault down through Holland and Belgium. The German General Staff was highly disturbed, not knowing whether the officer had been able to destroy the plan before he was captured.
ing a copy of the
The second event was a plan for a different strategy worked out by General von Rundstedt's brilliant chief of staff, General Erich von Manstein. Von Manstein had never been satisfied with the original plan, feeling it was poorly conceived on many grounds. For one thing, the French and British order of battle that is, the disposition of their troops clearly indicated they were expecting a wide swinging assault down through Holland and Belgium. This would lead to a head-on collision between Allied and German armor. For another, the area to be traversed in this attack was not good tank country. It was crisscrossed with canals, rivers, and streams. It would strip the German attacking forces of any element of surprise and would present difficult supply problems. Why do this, von Manstein reasoned, when by shifting the heavy weight of the German armor to Army Group A in the center of the German line, it would be possible to deliver an overwhelming blow against the Western powers at their weakest point. Let the German armor assemble in the Ardennes Forest, which the Allies considered impassable; let the Allied armies swing up into Belgium and Holland virtually unmolested when the German assault began; then strike them near the hinge of their wheeling forward movement, at Sedan, where the weak French Ninth Army composed of Class B divisions with few regular army officers would be making its relatively short turning movement into line on the inner wheel of the Allied maneuver. If this could be done, said von Manstein, the German armor could break out of the Ardennes Forest onto the rolling northern
Tanks and Armor
The German Attack in
Breakthrough in the West
smash across the rear of the French and British a drive to the sea, and pin them in a pocket against the
plain of France,
armies in English Channel coast.
Von Manstein's plan was Command, but he managed first
opposed by the German High
to have it presented to Hitler, who at But with his occasional intuitive bril-
liance, Hitler soon grasped the possibilities the plan presented for
and decisive movement, and for hiding an overwhelming concentration of power that would fall where the enemy least expected it, upon the weakest point in their line. It was not long before Hitler was viewing the plan as his own creation and ordered it put into execution, while von Manstein, who had angered the German General Staff by pushing his idea, was punished by being relieved of his post and placed in command of an infantry surprise, for a
as the darkness of the night faded into the
imperceptible gray of dawn, the rumble of the thousands of vehicles
movement shook the ground and reverberated across the sleeping The Phony War in the West, as the eight months of inactivity since the fall of Poland had come to be known, was about
picture for the
before the attack began,
Germans was this
then, in these last
In the lead in the north, where General von Bock's
B was approaching
the border, were the 9th, 3rd, and 4th Panzer (armored) Divisions, followed by motorized infantry, artillery, engineers, and all the diverse arms of a modern fighting machine. Heading the assault in the center, and concentrated on a narrow sixty to seventy mile front from the frontier opposite Namur to Sedan, were three armored corps, a total of seven panzer divisions the 5th, 7th, 6th, 8th, 1st, 10th, and 2nd— the rolling thunder of their tracks muffled by the shielding trees of the Ardennes as they pushed forward in a slow, dark tide of men and steel. And in the south, waiting with guns ready, were the troops of General von Leeb, whose assignment was to hold, contain, make no offensive
until the results of the assault in the north
5:30 a.m. on the morning of May 10, 1940, the first German vehicles of Army Groups B and A pushed aside the flimsy border gates of Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg and with a roar Promptly
— Tanks and Armor
of accelerating motors began their invasion of the West. At
a few scattered shots from outpost
from advance patrols, and then a quick back toward prepared positions where the German tide might
sentries, brief bursts of fire
be more adequately dealt with.
Overhead German bombers roared by on
smash major the city of Rotterdam, supply dumps, and troop concentrations. And other planes carrying paratroop and glidertargets in Holland
borne formations were nearing their drop zones over Belgian fortresses that they had been specifically trained to smash, bridges they were to seize and hold, and strategic road junctions where they were to harass, confuse, and break up western efforts to rush up
the Allied side of the line,
across the front. At 6:15 a.m. the British received orders to begin the prearranged movement into Belgium, and by 1:00 p.m. had
crossed the Belgian border.
clouds of dust with
The French Seventh Army,
concentration of mechanized vehicles, raced forward toward Holland. The French First Army pushed forward its
good order. And then near the hub of the wheel, the unblooded its horse-drawn transport, its green divisions, and its largely inexperienced officers, began its slow, turning movement into the Ardennes, its jingling squadrons of cavalry pushing on ahead into the dark and ominous forest. Thundering down upon the Ninth's thinly spread assembly of seven infantry and two horse cavalry divisions were forty-four divisions of von Rundstedt's Army Group A, seven of them armored and three of them motorized, a massive fist of steel aiming for the bridges over the Meuse River the only real barrier between von Rundstedt and open, rolUng coun-
try that led to the sea.
Numerically, and in most arms, the two massive fighting forces now hurtling toward each other were about equal in strength. The
Germans had 136 divisions in the tide of men and machines rushing toward the west. The combined Allied strength, counting the troops of Belgium
and Holland, totaled 135 divisions, and the division of armor was about equal, too: the Germans had 2,800 tanks, the Allies 3,000, and each had about 700 armored cars. But there was a distinct difference in the way the German armor was organized in armored divisions, concentrated on a narrow front, combining 82
Breakthrough in the West a balanced team of various types of military units built around tanks as the main weapon. Besides the assault forces of tanks, there were armored reconnaissance units, motorized infantry following close
behind the tanks, engineers,
corps or communica-
were skillfully trained under a doctrine of lightning assault guided by a theory of officers commanding from the front where the action was taking place. On the other hand, the Allied armor, still shackled by the concepts of World War I, was widely dispersed among infantry divisions and assigned a role of supporting them. The difference was a fatal one that was made even more deadly by the Germans' overwhelming air superiority, and their ability to control this air power in close support of their ground forces. The German offensive developed with amazing rapidity. In the north, German aircraft in repeated assaults stunned and virtually paralyzed the Dutch army while the 9th Panzer Division smashed deep into the Dutch border defenses. To the immediate south the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions of von Bock's Army Group B crashed into the retreating Belgian forces as they fell back toward better defensive positions in front of the major cities of Brussels and Antwerp. And on their southern flank the Fourth, Twelfth, and Sixteenth Armies of von Rundstedt's Army Group A its columns extending one hundred miles to the rear slashed out sizable gains. The Fourth Army sent the 5th and 7th Panzer Divisions racing forward toward an intended crossing of the Meuse between Dinant and Namur. Their tanks brushed aside Belgian patrols and defensive strongpoints, spraying both sides of the roads with machine-gun and tank gun fire as they hurtled by, not even pausing to ascertain the results. Only felled tree trunks across the roads, and deep craters tions units,
units. All of these
blasted in the roadways, slowed their progress.
the immediate south of the Fourth
thundered slowly but steadily
Army, the Twelfth Army
the sharply channeled
Ardennes with two armored corps in the lead. This was Germans called it the big punch, the main effort: General Reinhardt's corps consisting of the 6th and 8th Panzer Divisions, and General Heinz Guderian's Corps consisting of the 1st, 10th, and 2nd Panzer Divisions. Both corps were closely followed by three German infantry corps mounted in trucks. All this power of the Twelfth Army was lined up on a narrow, less-thandefiles of the
the Schwerjpunkt as the
Tanks and Armor
aimed directly at the weak hinge in the Frenchfrom Sedan to the area immediately north of Mezieres. To protect it, the Sixteenth Army, a virtually all-infantry formation, was assigned the mission of advancing as quickly as possible on a line parallel to, and immediately south of, the Twelfth Army, building up defenses as it went to beat off any attack the French might throw against the exposed southern flank of the German attack. At first, felled tree trunks across the roads and other prepared slowed Reinhardt's and roadblocks most of them undefended Guderian's progress. But the tanks quickly skirted most of them, brought up engineers swiftly to clear the obstructions, and continued to roll forward. Advancing to meet this German armor were the cavalry of General Corap's Ninth French Army and Belgium's horse-mounted "Chasseurs Ardennais" Brief skirmishes erupted as the groping forward elements of the two opposing forces came together. General Guderian's tanks poured overwhelming fire into these advance Allied units and swept on by, aiming his onrushing armored blow for a quick seizure of crossings on the Meuse near
As the poorly equipped French Ninth tried desperately to complete swing into line and cover an assigned frontage of fifty miles, the remainder of the Allied forces rushed forward and were in position by May 12, little realizing that the Germans had deliberately withheld their vastly superior air power and allowed them to complete this movement in order to draw them deep into the trap they were its
Slowly the savage fury and carefully masked brilliance of the
began to unfold. In the north, the Dutch and French Seventh Armies were brutally mauled by the German air force and had to retreat under repeated blows from von Bock's strategy
German divisions now them back. The British also
armor-tipped forces. The full weight of ten
began to fall on the Belgians too, forcing
keep contact with the retreatleft, and watched with growing apprehension a growing bulge in the French Ninth Army's area to the south. The Ninth never made it to its assigned positions. Its tangled columns were still struggling forward when Guderian's armored spearhead pierced the French and Belgian cavalry screen,
ground as they struggled
ing French and Belgian forces on their
and came careening down
into the central
of the Ninth's
Breakthrough in the West forces,
an avalanche of tanks followed
was shattered as matter of hours. With with a an effective fighting force, almost their tank turrets traversed to fire, some to one side of the road and some to the other, the 1st, 10th, and 2nd Panzer Divisions smashed
The Ninth, caught completely
straight through the their fire
French forces, sweeping the countryside with was soon to
and tearing open a hole in the Allied lines that
be more than
So swiftly was the German assault
unfolding that the Allied
had no clear picture of what was happening. Lord Gort, the British commander, reported in a dispatch on the third day of the
news was received from the Ardennes, where a was reported developing on the front of the French
Ninth Army, with
two armored divisions." The full truth of the developments in that area were much more disquieting than Lord Gort had reported. That afternoon advance tanks of General Erwin Rommel's 7th Panzer Division rolled into Dinant and Houx on the Meuse and made a desperate lunge to get across the still-unblown bridges spanning the river there. Just as the leading tanks began to cross, tremendous explosions tore through the arches of both bridges and they collapsed in the river. The French had demolished them just in time. That evening Guderian's 1st and 10th Armored Divisions battled through the streets of the French fortress city of Sedan on the east bank of the Meuse and closed up to the river. More and more of Army Group A's armor reached the Meuse during the night and preparations were rushed to force a crossing with armored infantry at least
in rubber pontoon boats the next morning.
So far the Germans had had
had been hght. And
their lightning thrusts
had thrown the
and repeated retreats before they could put Now it was the Germans' turn to feel the full impact of war. That night French artillery came crashing down on the German concentrations in Sedan, Dinant, and Houx. It increased in fury and soon the streets of these cities were lighted by flaming hulks of German tanks. Rommel whipped his troops forward despite the fire and by dawn on May 13 had an infantry assault
forces into confusion
streaming across the river in the rubber boats.
Tanks and Armor in
new danger appeared. Withering small-arms fire poured jammed with soldiers. French infantry, still arriving
into the boats
and being rushed hastily into
had occupied jumbled formabank and were slaughtering the temporarily helpless German assault troops. The German crossing attempt was beaten back with heavy casualties. German boats, filled with wounded and dying, drifted down the Meuse. Some made it back to the east bank where the increasingly heavy French artillery fire was smashing German concentrations as fast as they could be position,
tions of rocks along the west
organized for a new effort to get across.
his efforts temporarily thwarted, tried desperately to
enough forward to reply to the big French guns were pounding his division so heavily. But the artillery was trapped far in the rear by the concentration of troops that had clogged the highways leading to the river. A most resourceful commander, he immediately ordered a number of houses on his side of the river set on fire. The resulting smoke helped mask the movements of his infantry and soon a battalion made it across the Meuse at the village of Grange, opposite Houx. A company of infantry seized a foothold, too, in the village of Leffe near Dinant, but it was in a precarious position and was immediately subjected to heavy French fire. Rommel now rushed tanks and field howitzers up to the eastern riverbank and began to pour supporting fire across the river into positions from which the French infantry was firing on his troops. Under cover of this fire, still more German troops paddled across to the western bank. The French counterattacked sharply and mauled the Germans, but more and more German troops slipped through the smoke and small-arms fire and slowly the bridgeheads expanded. The German troops knew exactly what to do once they got there. For months they had rehearsed the crossings, working on exact reproductions of the terrain involved, carefully constructed from intelhgence photographs that were complete down to the last bunker. But the battering assaults of the French 18th Division, which had been in the process of taking over that area of the Meuse get his artillery far
the river crossings began,
the execution of their plans
most difficult. Rommel's was the first of Army Group A's divisions to close up to the river and its crossing attempts were further advanced then 86
Breakthrough in the West than any of the others. But similar situations were developing aU along the Meuse south of the 7th and for a time success or failure of the crossings was very much in doubt. Then, starting at noon on May 13, the Germans filled the sky with one thousand diving, wheehng aircraft. Wave after wave of German Stuka dive-bombers came sweeping in from the east. Used like artillery, they screamed down on assigned targets, battering the big French guns that were punishing the Germans. The ground shook with the crashing explosions of their bombs. As the French resistance weakened and the French artillery was silenced, German troops began to pour across the river.
Three crossings were forced that day. Rommel's 7th Division was first, and in strength. Then, in the afternoon, the leading troops of Reinhardt's Corps also made it across at Montherme but were pinned down in a shallow, ineffective beachhead. And Guderian got one of his three armored divisions across and managed to throw a pontoon bridge across the river. On the morning of May 14, French and British aircraft counterattacked, trying desperately to
they attempted to penetrate a heavy curtain of antiaircraft
thrown up by German gunners. But so heavy was that 150 Alhed planes were shot down; their bombs
the defensive foe
the bridge but left
intact, despite the spectacular bravery of the
Guderian had all three of his armored divisions across the river. He wheeled west and smashed hard at the juncture of the French Second and Ninth Armies. General Corap, a huge hole already torn in his center and now his right flank crumbling under Guderian's new blows, made what appeared to
the afternoon of
the only intelHgent decision at the time.
ordered a general
withdrawal to the west, hoping to throw up a new defensive line along the railway east of Philippe ville, fifteen miles behind the Meuse.
move. As he pulled back, Reinhardt's corps was now joined Rommel's 7th Division and Guderian's corps in an onrushing assault against the collapsing French line. Rommel's tanks shot forward and were beyond the Philippeville railroad line before Corap could ever occupy it. Confusion spread in the French ranks. Luck was with the GerIt
shallow bridgehead and
Tanks and Armor mans,
moment and was planning
Armored Division to
arrived just at this
counterattack with the 4th North
African Division toward Dinant in an effort to destroy Rommel's The attack could have seriously hurt Rommel but
the French ran out of gas before they could get their assault under way. They were overrun before new suppUes could be rushed forward. Rommel's leading tanks swept on, mounting the hills west of Cerfontaine while behind them columns of dust raised by the division's vehicles reached back to the horizon. Guderian's tanks, too, had now broken through to open country and by the afternoon of May 15 the breach in the French lines was sixty miles wide.
Guderian's assault after crossing the Meuse had pierced the "Little Maginot Line" west of Luxembourg and his tanks were now rolling westward behind this line. That night Rommel's tanks, advancing north of Guderian's, made a spectacular gain and broke through the same line of weak forts farther to the west. As the moon rose, he recorded, in documents that were later to be pubhshed as part of the book known as The Rommel Papers, that the way to the west was open.
was indeed. The French defense hne was broken. The German had worked with a precision and brilliance almost unmatched in the history of warfare. A tide of German tanks was now racing for the sea. The nation that only two decades earlier had been It
beaten, disarmed, partially occupied, and dishonored by the Versailles Treaty ending World War I had recovered, built the most formidable war machine in the world, and now was inflicting a
vengeance upon its former enemies. How could this have happened? How had Germany managed such a transformation under the very eyes of the nations that had defeated it before? The beginning of that story goes back to the very early months of the German Weimar Republic that had been estabhshed after Imperial Germany collapsed in 1918. For that was the time when the German General Staff began to sift through the history of World War I to try to determine what had gone wrong, so that someday it could build a new army, and this time make it so overwhelmingly strong that it could never be defeated again. Let us interrupt our story long enough to see how this was done.
Breakthrough in the West
One of the first acts of the German General Staff after World War I was to establish a special section devoted to the study of armored combat. This section, created in 1919, had a built-in advantage over similar groups created by other nations. The German advantage was that, under the Versailles Treaty, she was not permitted to have any tanks. This meant that in attempting to devise new armored doctrines the German planners would not be tied to or influenced by the physical hmitations of existing equipment left over from World War I, as the French, British, and Americans were. One very broad conclusion affecting all German armament planning was quickly reached: that Germany's lack of sea power, her geographical position, and lack of certain essential resources made it absolutely necessary that any war Germany fought in the future
be one leading to a quick decision. German arms and would have to be fashioned to attempt
theories of warfare
meet that requirement because a long war, a stalemate, would inevitably work against Germany and wear down her ability to resist. This had happened in World War I. In devising a war mato
such a requirement,
available evidence pointed toward
army of great mobility and toward armor as providmost likely arm around which such lightning war or blitz-
the need for an
krieg could be built.
The tank studies themselves showed that whenever Germany had used tanks, even in as limited numbers as it did in World War I, it had broken the enemy's front but never had the proper arms available to exploit these breaks,
careful study of the British assault
Cambrai led to a similar conclusion. Here again the overwhelming power of tanks used en masse on a limited front was clearly demonat
the British cavalry attempted to exploit the break-
through it was cut down quickly by a mere handful of remaining machine guns. Lack of reserves, lack of infantry trained to wark in close coordination with the tanks, an inability to bring artillery fire down quickly on stubborn targets when needed, inadequate comunications, tanks without sufficient range and mechanical ability to stay in combat for long periods of time all of these weaknesses ere also apparent in what had taken place at Cambrai. A German officer who became involved in these studies was Heinz Guderian, the same Guderian who was one of von Rundstedt's armored corps commanders in the attack through the Ardennes on
Tanks and Armor
infantry units in
Prussian by birth, he served with German light I, but was destined to become probably
Germany's greatest genius in the field of armored warfare. He studied the writings of Britain's General J. F. C, Fuller and his "Plan 1919," those of Captain Liddell Hart, and soon had available the works of another farsighted military authority, a then littleknown instructor at France's St.-Cyr military academy. The instructor's name was Captain Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle in the early 1930's wrote of the great mechanized and armored armies that would be created in the future. He virtually predicted that Germany's next assault on France would be launched at the Sedan area, where its defenses were weakest, by high-speed armored columns that would sweep over Flanders and France in a lightning war that could not be contained unless France built her own armored corps and
smash the attacking forces. Guderian's findings, and those of other German officers, led to the secret creation of the nucleus of a German Armored Force at Doeberitz near Berlin in 1929. There experimental armored cars and tanks were built and tested, just as earlier other models had been built and tested at a secret armored force base at Kazan in the Soviet Union as early as 1922. Russia in those days was very friendly to the Weimar Republic in Germany. armies
Concepts of armored warfare were also tried out in large-scale army maneuvers that were carefuUy concealed from foreign military observers. There were no tanks to use in these exercises, but police cars and passenger cars, equipped with sheet iron coverings, took the role of tanks, permitting the gradual development of a new type of combat. In 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany and before that year ended a German armored force was in the process of being created, built largely around the ideas worked out by Guderian. Guderian's thinking was based on the concept that the proper basic unit of armored warfare was a division that included not only tanks, but armored infantry that is, infantry carried in armored vehicles such as half-tracks engineers, signal corps troops, its own artillery, and all the other components that might be properly used in a fastmoving armored assault. This idea was not entirely original with Guderian. Fuller and others in Britain had long before advocated the close teamwork of
Breakthrough in the West tanks used in larger numbers and infantry; and De Gaulle in France had worked out a concept of an armored division of three brigades one each of tanks, infantry, and artillery plus a battahon of engineers and one of communications troops. But Guderian went even further. What he proposed, and was able to have adopted over the objections of tradition-minded German generals, was a balanced, self-contained team, tightly woven together with excellent communications, designed to strike, break through, keep going, and
leave the cleanup of remaining resistance to motorized infantry
corps following in trucks.
a rearmed and aggressive
new Germany began
emerge rapidly. The first maneuvers with an armored division were conducted in June, 1934. Three armored divisions were created on to
October 15, 1935, plus some separate tank brigades designed for support of infantry, three light divisions under cavalry control, and four motorized infantry divisions. Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland
area between the Rhine River and Germany's borders with
and Holland which had been War I. He renounced the Versailles Treaty and the hmitations it had placed on German arms. Universal military training of all young men was begun again and soon a general expansion of all German arms was under way, including the buildFrance, Belgium, Luxembourg,
demihtarized after World
ing of a formidable air force.
Guderian's ideas did not prevail completely in the molding of the
He wanted armored,
tracked vehicles to
transport the division's infantry and artillery, but had to settle for
motorized infantry and horse-drawn heavy great strain city.
rearmament had placed on Germany's
because of the
also objected strongly but ineffectually to the creation of
separate armored brigades for infantry support which to sen ted a splitting up of the nation's armored strength.
series of tanks
were developed units.
to serve as the basic
called the PzKpfwI, or Panzer
was a 5.3-ton machine created in 1934. It had a crew of two, was armed with only two turret-mounted machine guns, had a maximum speed of twenty-four miles per hour, and armor protection from 8 millimeters to 15 millimeters thick. The PzKpfwlI, or Panzer II, designed later in the same year, was a considerably improved machine. It weighed 7.5 tons, had a three-man crew, and was armed I,
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare with a 20-millimeter gun as well as a machine gun. Produced next in 1935, although out of sequence in the German number designa-
was the Panzer IV, a 20-ton medium tank. Although its 75was a low velocity weapon that had to be replaced later, the Panzer IV became the backbone of the German Armored Force and its most reliable weapon. The Panzer III, finally ordered in 1936, was a 15-ton light tank, armed with a 37-millimeter gun. It actually differed Httle from the PzKpfwIV except for this armament. Both had five-man crews, similar engines, weight, and protective armor. And the PzKpfwIII in turn was later updated and made more effective when its 37-miUimeter gun was replaced tions,
1939 with a 5-centimeter ( 50-mLllimeter or about 2-inchdiameter) L/42 cannon. In 1936 Hitler sent a number of PzKpfwI's with German crews to help General Francisco Franco's fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War, and on March 12, 1938, his entire armored force was put to a severe test when it was suddenly alerted and sent on a 420-mile march from Germany into Austria when Hitler took over that nation. There were numerous breakdowns of equipment and other weaknesses that showed up, but the Germans were able to keep the main body of armor moving. Less than seven months later, on September 29, 1938, Hitler forced Britain and France into a humiliating diplomatic retreat at a conference in Munich, Germany, and once again the German armor was called on to occupy part of another nation, this time the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia where many Gerafter
Early the next year, in March 1939, Hitler's forces Munich pact and occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. Now, at last, Britain and France, whose terrible losses in World War I had made them extremely reluctant to oppose Hitler's earher moves, began to rearm and prepare for war if Germany carried out the new territorial threats it was making against Poland. Thus, when Germany launched its armies against Poland just before dawn on September 1, 1939, Britain and France went to war against their lived.
In the tragic days that followed. Hitler's air force and six armored
major role in crushing Poland in a whirlwind campaign of two and a half weeks, while protecting his western border with France with only some thirty divisions. Next he invaded divisions played the
Breakthrough in the West
and occupied Norway and Denmark on April 9, 1940, to gain bases from which to protect his North Sea shipping routes, and finally made ready to launch an attack in the west that would defeat France and Britain and wipe out the stain of Germany's defeat in World War I. Hitler had at first ordered his generals to launch this offensive by November 12, 1939, but bad weather forced repeated postponements until the following May, a period during which the German armored force was expanded from six to ten divisions. This was accomplished by reorganizing and building up the tank strength of four Hght divisions, previously under cavalry control, which had been created beginning in 1938. So, as Germany's attack was about to begin in the west, it had six armored divisions built around a two-regiment tank brigade of 320 tanks and four other divisions built around a single tank regiment of varying lesser strength. More than 400 tanks taken from Czechoslovakia when that nation was occupied were used by the Germans in this expansion. While this buildup was taking place, and the German General Staff waited for the weather to clear, the armored troops trained constantly. These large-scale maneuvers perfected the blitzkrieg tactics that had first been divised by Guderian and other German leaders, then were experimented with in the Spanish Civil War, and finaly were tried out for the first time in the hghtning campaign against Poland.
juggernaut, the French had four hght
cavalry type mechanized divisions and four poorly balanced armored divisions that
were largely a concentration of infantry support tanks
with inadequate infantry attachments. The French, in the early writings and warnings of
fact, despite still
process of working out the component parts that should go into an
armored division as the day of the German attack in the west approached.
And the British, whose far sigh ted officers had invented the tank and had been the first to understand its great striking power, had only one armored division, which was still in Britain, plus some infantry support tank units in France. Finally the long-expected
French forces on
and ripped all fronts.
attack began, stabbed across
into the Dutch, Belgian, British,
the night of
15, as the
Tanks and Armor
rose and cast a pale light over the racing
west was indeed open, and a great military disaster was in the making. burst out of the Ardennes, the
At the northern end of the German front, von Bock's heavy blows on the ground and the paralyzing attacks by the Luftwaffe from the air forced the Dutch forces to put down their arms on May 15 and sent the French Seventh Army reeling back toward Antwerp, much of
strength lost in the savage fighting in Holland.
of von Bock's assault
now was brought down on
were forced back rapidly and Lord Gort, the British to retreat, too, to protect his
16th, he ordered his troops to retreat to the
They commander, had
the night of
Senne River. As the weary
Tommies struggled back along the clogged the west was reddened by explosions and fires
the sky far to
port of Antwerp. That night 150,000 tons of
roads, in the
were destroyed and
entrances to docks and basins were blown up to prevent them falling
Germany's possession. On May 17 the Allied armies in Belgium retreated again to the hne of the Dendre River, then on May 18 began a further withdrawal to the Scheldt. The crumbling resistance of the Belgian army on the British left, and the rapidly developing threat of von Rundstedt's tank forces on the right, slashing across southern Belgium and northern France, made these repeated British retreats necessary even when the Germans were not pushing back Gort's front. Faced with the increasing likelihood of an overwhelming military defeat if the German tanks could not be halted, Gort began forming small task forces as best he could and rushed them south to shore up his threatened southern flank. He wanted particularly to seize and hold the village of Arras as a base for a counterattack into the flank of the onrushing intact into
German armor. Von Rundstedt's
tanks, sweeping the countryside with fire
terrorized refugees off the roads, raced ahead now speed in a series of parallel columns fifty miles across. They smashed through entire French divisions resting on both sides of the
roads, troops that
had been marching
they were near the front lines.
and did not even
they fought short, sharp
engagements with French armor, leaving both their own and French tanks blazing wrecks Ugh ting the countryside. At Avesnes, Rommel's
Breakthrough in the West troops ran into a battalion of French heavy tanks
serious losses in a bloody fight that was not finally suppressed until the next day. But on most occasions the French tanks at any given location were too few, spread too thin among the French infantry,
and the German tanks available Repeatedly during the swift
meet them were
German advance, French and
trying to gather their troops for a coordinated
De Gaulle hurled
the recently formed
incomplete French 4th Armored Division into Guderian's flank at Laon on May 19, but the slow, poorly handled French vehicles
were quickly brushed
and scores were left ablaze. seemed to be a joint attack. It was agreed that French forces south of Guderian's columns would drive north from Peronne on the banks of the Somme and British forces holding Arras would attack south. Only a gap of
failure of this assault, the best possibility
twenty-five miles separated the two Alhed-held areas at this point.
gap could be closed, the German tank columns now nearing and destroyed. The British assembled their 5th and 50th Infantry Divisions at Arras. Led by seventy-four infantry support tanks known as "Matildas," and with seventy light French tanks operating on the right flank, this force attacked south out of Arras on May 21. Shortly before the attack got under way, the French reported that the force that they had attempted to assemble at Peronne had been heavily bombed and would not be able to join in the assault. The British assault came down hard on the badly extended columns of Rommel's 7th Panzer Division and cut deep into his flank. Shells from the Germans' 37-millimeter antitank guns bounced harmlessly off the heavily armored, but slow Matildas. Soon many German vehicles were burning and their dead and wounded were scattered across the fields. The British continued to advance, but just as it seemed that the Germans would be thrown into complete confusion by the unexpected attack, Rommel arrived and took personal command of the fighting. He got his artillery into action and brought up his 88-millimeter antiaircraft guns to help halt the British. He soon had every possible gun firing into the British formation and brought their advance to a halt. Slowly the British began to fall back on Arras, thirty-six of their tanks lost in the fighting. The German losses were heavy, too. If this
the Channel coast could be cut off
Tanks and Armor
But the British attack was already too late. Even while the still advancing, Guderian's armored columns, south of Rommel's, rolled into Amiens and reached the sea near Abbeville. The AUied armies that had rushed into Belgium and Holland the French Seventh and First, the British Expeditionary Force and rem-
had been cut off from their bases and They were in a trap with their backs to the sea. supphes to the south. The next day, May 22, Guderian's tanks rolled north up the Channel coast and began shelling the port of Boulogne, and on May
nants of the French Ninth
23 Reinhardt's panzer corps to the immediate north captured St. Omer. A French attack by two divisions that day hit the flank of Reinhardt's columns and advanced swifty for several miles against httle opposition to the outskirts of Cambrai, but German dive-bombers quickly drove
Although Boulogne was about to fall to the Germans, and Calais, even farther north up the Channel coast, would be under siege before the day was over, Gort was still struggling to gather new forces near Arras for a renewed offensive to the south. He hoped to hit the Germans with five divisions and what was left of a French cavalry corps on May 26 in a renewed eff'ort to link up with the Allied armies to the south. While these preparations were under way, the exhausted Belgian army to the north began to come apart under the concentrated
pounding of a new assault by von Bock. Feehng that the Belgians were about to collapse, Britain's General Allenbrooke, commanding the left side of the British line, called for reinforcements. Gort
faced with a critical decision.
the afternoon of
25, he sat
alone at his headquarters building pouring over battle maps for a long time, then arose and ordered two divisions to start north to help the British forces there
the Belgians gave
— and by so doing
he abandoned forever any hope of attacking to the south in strength. A half hour after the British troops were started on their way, the Germans poured through the shattered Belgian front hne. Gort, by his decision, had probably saved the British Expeditionary Force. But now the situation was desperate indeed. The British fell back
on the port of Dunkirk, and the Germans, acting on the orders of an overanxious Hitler, helped them in their retreat. Less than a day before, concerned with the unprotected flanks of the
columns. Hitler ordered the armor
to halt until the
Breakthrough in the West fantry could catch up. This was all the time the British needed to throw up a defensive line around Dunkirk through which their troops could retreat. Already a
every type vessel
was descending on the Dunkirk beaches haggard, bitter, defeated men. While the British
the British could muster to rescue these
Royal Air Force beat off the assaults of the German Luftwaffe, 338,000 AUied troops, including 120,000 French forces, were rescued between May 26 and June 4. It was a memorable scene set against the sand and water Long, winding columns of exhausted men filed out into the surf to be picked up and returned to Britain. Behind them, the wreckage of their heavy equipment burned on the horizon, purposely destroyed so it would not fall into German hands, while a valiant force of French troops held off the renewed assaults of the German panzers and infantry. Slowly the beachhead shrank in size until finally it was no more. The Germans had won a spectacular victory, a classic in mihtary history. They had won with a superior strategy based on an advanced concept of the proper use of tanks and armor in modern warfare. :
The French Surrender At 9:00 A.M. on June 4, 1940, the last Allied resistance in Dunkirk collapsed and the port surrendered. But even before this final death agony of th ^ AUied effort in Belgium and northern France, the great German war machine was coiling for a new strike to force the complete surrender of France. By the end of May, some of the panzer divisions were rolling south toward the Somme River where the new French commander, General Weygand, who had replaced General Gamelin on May 20, was trying desperately to throw up a line of defense.
The Allied position was grave. In less than a month of fighting, Germans had captured more than one million prisoners at a cost of sixty thousand casualties. The French had lost a third of their army, thirty divisions, including most of the mechanized and armored units. The British had lost the equipment and part of the men from twelve divisions. And the Dutch and Belgian armies no the
Only two British divisions remained in France, but two others, only partly trained, were rushed across the Channel. These four plus sixty-six depleted French divisions were left with the virtually hopeless task of trying to defend a front extending from Abbeville on the sea to the end of the Maginot Line near Luxembourg against
armor and air power. Taking advantage of the bridgeheads across the
vastly superior in
Allied confusion, the
at Abbeville, Amiens, and Peronne,
then wheeled their divisions into line for the final assault against France.
Army Group B was divisions,
to deliver the
main blow. Given
ordered to force a breakthrough between the River
The French Surrender Oise and the Channel and drive south across the Seine River near Rouen. Army Group A, with the other four panzer divisions, was to attack four days later on both sides of Rethel where the front fol-
lowed a portion of the Aisne River. Two of Army Group A's armored columns were to smash south toward the Rhone Valley in southern France, and two others south then east, coming in behind the Maginot Line defenses from the Plateau de Langres. Army Group C, which had remained relatively inactive during the earlier attack in the west, was to wait until the assault by Army Groups A and B were well under way, then break through the Maginot Line somewhere between Metz and the Rhine and complete the encirclement of the French armies manning the still-untouched
Maginot defenses. ^^ While the long, rumbling German columns crowded up to the Somme, the French battered at the German bridgeheads at Abbeville and Amiens with tanks and infantry. The flashing, thunderous exchanges of artillery and tank guns left more and more French around the rim of the mauled tanks blazing, shattered wrecks
Finally the gallant stand of the French rear guard at Dunkirk
an end and the next day, June 5, Army Group B opened its The 5th and 7th Panzer Divisions burst out of the Abbeville bridgehead. General Rommel's 7th Panzer Division smashed straight
through the defending Allied forces. Blackened, red-eyed, and weary, its men rolled into Rouen on June 8. Driving his men with his characteristic energy, Rommel pivoted to the west and pinned the British Highland Division and a large French force in a pocket against the sea at St.-Valery. of Army Group B's assaults went so well, however. The and 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions charged into the French 9th, 10th defenders encircling the Amiens and Peronne bridgeheads, but were thrown back with serious losses. Again and again the tanks battered at the French lines but could make no headway. Farther to the east. Army Group A joined in the fight on June 9, hurling Twelfth Army infantry against the French on both sides of Rethel. Again the French fought with bravery and stubbornness, turning back the assault east of Rethel. But the Germans forced three bridgeheads across the Aisne west of the town, expanded
them, and that night got a bridge across the
In the darkness,
— Tanks and Armor in
tanks of the 1st and 2nd Panzer Divisions and 29th motorized infantry divisions began to cross.
As the German armor rolled south at dawn the next day, French came screaming down on the columns. From villages and woods, the flashing, rumbling blasts of big guns hammered at the armor. But in fierce fighting the tanks bypassed the villages and kept going, leaving innumerable islands of stubbornly resisting Frenchmen for the motorized infantry to clean up as it advanced artillery
more slowly. The German armor fought slowly forward. Then suddenly, from the east, French tanks of a newly formed armored division rolled out of Juniville in battle formation. Guns firing as they moved, the French vehicles rammed into the flank of the German panzers. For two hours the screaming, flat flight of tank shells crisscrossed the French countryside, then the French were forced back, their attack spent.
General Guderian, commanding the panzer group leading Army A's assault, waited until darkness fell, then began moving the troops that had been unable to cross east of Rethel the 6th and 8th Panzer Divisions and 20th Motorized Infantry Division
expanding bridgeheads west of the town. These three divipanzer corps under General Reinhardt, ran head-on into more fierce counterattacks on June 1 1 French armored and mechanized brigades struck at the panzer's flanks, then pulled into the
sions, organized in a
to strike again.
The 37-millimeter German antitank guns were
useless against the heavier French tanks but did score against the
mechanized units. Gradually the French had to give ground. The skill with which the German tanks were employed and the heavy concentrations of fire they could bring down on a target were more than the courage and determination of the French could overfighter
That same day, June 11, there were major developments both south and west of Army Group A. Germany's ally, Italy, under the leadership of Benito Mussolini, entered the war against an already
wounded France and ordered its troops to attack across the lofty, sky-scraping Franco-Italian border formed bleeding and critically
by the Alps south of Switzerland. At about the same time
Group B, unable to break out of the Somme bridgeheads at Amiens and Peronne, shifted its troops a few miles to the east and broke 100
The French Surrender through quickly in the Laon area. The rumbling columns of the 9th, 10th, 3rd, and 4th Panzer Divisions raced into Chateau-Thierry
— of the major — the night of the eleventh.
on the Marne
American attack in World
The German armor was across the Somme and Aisne in strength and the German Luftwaffe filled the sky with diving, screaming planes that smashed French efforts to mass troops to strike back. Communications began to break down. The French command had difficulty getting information on what was happening in the The French
many battles flaming across know where the spearheads located
and it had no
tanks or swarms of
did not always
German columns were defense against the masses of German
of the racing
that were tearing
There were still thousands of French soldiers that had not fired a shot in the war and most of them would never get the opportunity, so rapidly
was the German
the western flank of the
attack, tanks of the 5th
Panzer and Rommel's 7th Panzer Divisions repeated their spectacular successes of the earlier drive across Belgium. And once again they swept through columns of terrorized refugees and raced by the startled, incredulous men of entire divisions, fully armed, camping in nearby fields while they waited for orders to move up to the front orders that never came. With tank turrets traversed to fire, some to one side, some to the other, and some to the front, the two divisions fought brief skirmishes and sometimes ran into stiff pockets of resistance, but for the most part were unopposed as they clattered swiftly down narrow French roads and on into the Normandy and Brittany peninsulas. As western France collapsed, tanks of the 9th, 10th, 3rd, and 4th Panzer Divisions continued their southeastern drive across France, sweeping by Reims and thrusting straight for the Rhone Valley in southern France. A little farther east, Guderian's 1st, 2nd, 6th, and 8th Panzer Divisions, organized into Panzer Corps Schmidt and Reinhardt, raced first to the southeast and then pivoted north to assault the Maginot Line from the rear. Suddenly, on June 14, the long-dormant German First Army of Army Group C rolled up its biggest guns and sent a screaming
Tanks and Armor
down on the Maginot Line betwen St. -Avoid and Swarming German planes heavily bombed the French fortresses; then, under cover of a smoke screen, German infantrymen rose up and rushed forward. Using flamethrowers and demolitions, the Germans attacked and captured fort after fort, finding many of them especially vulnerable from the rear where the soldiers inside had no field of vision. In barrage crashing Puttlinger.
twelve hours the First Army broke through the line south of Saarbrucken, hooked south toward Chateau Salins, and then east toward
Donon. That same day, watched by Frenchmen with tear-rimmed eyes, a long column of German troops, paced by the doleful pounding of drums, marched down the Champs Elysees, around the Arc de Triomphe, and into the heart of Paris, city of light and symboHc heart of the French nation. France, the nation of Napoleon, was stricken and dying. On June 16 French Premier Reynaud resigned and Marshal Petain, one of the French heroes of World War I, formed a new government for the express purpose of negotiating an armistice with Germany. While these events were taking place, onrushing German armored columns were sealing off any last, remote chance of effective French resistance. Army Group A's panzer spearheads rolled through Dijon on June 16 and the next day arrived in Pontarlier on the Swiss frontier, completing the encirclement of the French Third, Fifth, and Eighth Armies in the Alsace-Lorraine area where the Maginot Line was located. Five days later the three armies surrendered and the war
over except for scattered fighting. France, whose armies had once
dominated Europe, had been crushed in six weeks, its armies shattered by thousands of airplanes and tanks, A deep gloom settled over the nation, but
they would find a
brave Frenchmen to fight
in their hearts that
again and drive out the Germans.
DUEL IN THE DESERT
CHAPTER EIGHT Italian Benito Mussolini,
proud and ambitious
dictator, stood at the
of his spacious office in the Palazzo Venizia, gazing out over
the scurrying, horn-honking trians in
swarms of cars and streams
downtown Rome. His
were firmly planted, the broad
was The fading light filtering through
was thrust window glowed softly
chest above his expanding waistline
out, his chin
on one side of his bald head. He was having that dream again. No matter in which direction he looked, he knew that beyond the horizons were lands once ruled from Rome, the world's greatest empire. They included all the nations that
the Mediterranean Sea to the south; vast areas to
the north; Switzerland, France, and Britain to the west; and every country to the east up to the borders of Persia. All of this once belonged to Rome, and Mussohni felt that perhaps
would again if he made the right moves at the right times. Six years before, he had proudly puUed himself up to his full five-footseven-inch height and predicted that within six decades Italy would be the prime power in the world. His nation's destiny lay in Asia and Africa, he said, and promptly launched the first steps in his plan to re-create Rome's lost empire. In 1935 his troops overran Ethiopia in Africa. On April 7, 1939, he sent ItaUan legions marching into the tiny kingdom of Albania, across the Adriatic Sea from the heel of the Italian boot. Mussolini's forces also quickly took over Somaliland and invaded the Sudan and Kenya in Africa early in 1940, and now it was time to strike the most important blow of all in North Africa invade Egypt from the bordering Italian colony of Libya. Egypt was then a protectorate of Great Britain. It was Mussolini's goal to cut the lifeline of the mighty British Empire by seizing the Suez Canal which lay at the extreme it
Tanks and Armor in
eastern edge of Egypt. The canal controlled the main sea passage between Europe and Asia. Once he had Suez in his possession, Mussolini would indeed have taken a long, long stride toward control of all of the Mediterranean and the rebuilding of the Roman Empire. Seizure of the canal perhaps would also sever Britain's last hope of recovering from the recent crushing defeat the British and French
had suffered in the German invasion and conquest of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, climaxed by the evacuation at Dunkirk.
knew all new Italian
he stood at his office window, dreamempire. He knew, too, that he had marshaled a vastly superior force in Libya that should have no difficulty brushing aside the tiny British army that stood between him and the ing of the
The man he had
was Marshal Rodolfo man, tough as steel, who had a reputation of being one of Italy's crudest and most efficient generals. Graziani, standing over six feet tall, had skin burned to a deep bronze by the desert sun. He had built a reputation as a successful commander in ruthlessly subduing Arab and Ethiopian forces. And he had led the Italian troops that invaded France through the passes selected to lead this attack
Graziani, a grizzled, hawk-nosed
in the Alps during the final days of the Battle of France. Because of
such past successes, he had been given the nickname of "Lucky." Now he would need all the luck he could get in the upcoming battle. The arena for this impending struggle was a desolate expanse of
and rocky outcroppings extending westand southward from the Mediterranean, for almost 2,000,000 square miles. In some areas near the sea, and sometimes extending inland for fifty or sixty miles, there was a thin strip of vegetation and cultivated fields where rain fell in the winter. Along this extreme northern edge of Africa, Arab farmers, with patient and painstaking toil, raised crops of plump, sand, coarse gravelly
the Nile River in Egypt,
glistening grapes that ripened to a sugary sweetness in the sun.
some areas rose green and succulent against But farther south the desert was a great, unending sea of
their fields of corn in
sand, swept by the savage Ghibli windstorm, into rippled
and depressions almost untouched by any form of life. Only in isolated spots did the deep underground rivers that flowed beneath the desert rise to the surface and burst forth as springs where date 1
Mediterranean Area U.S.S.R.
and Africa FRANCE .l^iIZr^-^^^'^HijNGARY "
palms could grow and Arab farmers could wrest a
Over all this wasteland the sun beat down with pitiless brilliance, sending temperatures soaring to 140 degrees or more at midday. And then at night they dropped just as swiftly to almost freezing, leaving any
human who had
day, shivering, quaking,
the cycle It
suffered through the furnace of mid-
armored campaigns and forth across the northern
in this setting that six of the greatest
in history were fought, sweeping back
face of Africa in a struggle for the strategic canal at Suez. First
was Graziani who led an army against the British protecting the canal in Egypt. Then it was the brilliant counteroffensive of British 107
Tanks and Armor
General Sir Archibald Wavell. Next came the first effort of German Afrika Korps' commander, General Erwin Rommel, to rescue Germany's Itahan ally, and win Suez for Nazi Germany. General Claude Auchinleck followed, pushing Rommel back in a renewed British offensive that
Then Rommel made
bid for victory in a series of advances that ended at El Alamein and
came within a hair of driving the British out of Africa. In the fmal campaign, Britain's General Bernard Montgomery sent a completely rebuilt and reequipped British Eighth Army methodically plodding across Africa to crush the Germans and Itahans with the aid of a British and American invasion that came in behind the GermanItahan troops and forced them into a final defeat in Tunisia. The
were fought in these campaigns were spread over with Egypt in the east, and moving toward the west, they involved Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. And each of these campaigns was among the finest examples of armored tactics and strategy that World War II produced. They were the very opposite of those fought in World War I when the machine gun, trenches, and barbed wire had removed any possibihty of a war of movement, encirclement, and quick decision. In the costly frontal assaults of World War I there were no flanks to encircle, and very httle chance to outsmart and entrap one's opponent. But in Africa there were nearly always flanks that could be turned because the armies were small and the battlefield so large. There was always the possibihty of trickery and strategy that could lead to victory, and time and again it was the commander vnth the better grasp of the proper way to use armor who won out. Graziani, carefully preparing for his invasion of Egypt, was soon to find this out. Every day during the heat of July, trucks loaded with supplies streamed up the highways of Tunisia leading to Bardia and Capuzzo near the Egyptian border. Long infantry columns plodded along both sides of the Via Balbia, the blacktop road that the Itahans had built along the African Mediterranean coast. And with them moved the Ughtly armed L/3 and M/11 tanks that were battles that
five countries. Starting
to support the
The L/3, armed only with two machine guns, was developed in 1935 for use in the Spanish Revolution. It was a turretless vehicle weighing only 3.2 tons. It was handled by a crew of two and was capable of a top speed of twenty-eight miles per hour. The 11-ton 1 08
— Italian Debacle
M/11, a much better tank, capable of twenty-miles-per-hour speeds, was put into production in 1939 and was thought by the Italians at the time to be quite suitable for use in armored breakthrough at-
was armed with two machine guns in the turret and a 37-miUimeter gun with limited traverse that is, movement from side to side mounted in the hull. Its protective armament was between 10 millimeters and 30 millimeters tempts.
a crew of three,
late July, Graziani had assembled an army of about 250,000 organized in four divisions plus supporting arms in final staging areas facing Egypt. This threatening array of men, equipment,
supplies, deployed across the desert, towered over the tiny
British forces, awaiting their
moving onto the
But despite its menacing proportions, the Italian army had many serious weaknesses. Its tanks were underpowered, their guns too small, the armament too Ught, and the distance they could travel without refueling too short. The tanks also were still bound to the concept that had cost the British and French so dearly in defending Belgium and France direct support of infantry divisions which meant they were scattered throughout the Italian force instead of being concentrated into armored divisions. There were other problems too. The Italian artillery was largely of short-range World War I varieties. There were too few antitank battlefield to
his biblical foe David.
assembling consisted mainly of nonmotorized infantry. This meant that the bulk of the Italian force could not advance nor retreat any faster than a man could walk.
On September 13, 1940, the Italian artillery suddenly opened up with a heavy bombardment of the British defensive positions along the Egyptian border; then Graziani sent two Italian columns plod-
ding forward through the dust and heat. One pushed through the Salum and the other headed into Halfaya Pass "Hellfire Pass" as soldiers came to call it to the south and east. This was a vital passage through a ridgeline slanting southeast from coastal village of
Salum. General Wavell's covering forces
Italian advance, harassing Graziani's
Graziani found this
back slowly in front of the columns with artillery and fire
Tanks and Armor
rupted his progress and took a heavy
Modern Warfare toll
whenever would vanish
in casualties. But
he would form up his troops to strike back, the British only to return and work his columns over again later. The Italians did not reach Sidi Barrani, an Egyptian village less than fifty miles down the Mediterranean coast, until early October. There Graziani halted and dug in to recover from his losses. A fine black-top road stretched in front of him deeper into Egypt, but he decided to wait. He fortified his position and brought up supplies, reinforcements, and organized his water supplies. Then he waited, and waited, and waited a costly mistake. General Wavell, grateful for the respite, assembled troops as rapidly as he could from all parts of the Empire. He pulled in motorized forces, mobile artillery, reconnaissance units, tanks, artillery and air units, and quietly assembled the British Mediterranean fleet off the Egyptian coast. While the Italians rested and built up
their defenses, the British slowly increased their strength until they
were ready to strike back. The blow finally fell on December 9. British airplanes swarmed down on forward Itahan airfields and heavily bombed Sidi Barrani. British warships opened a thunderous bombardment too, tearing apart Itahan formations along the coastal road with their heaviest shells and blanketing Sidi Barrani with their fire. A full moon rose over the scene of guns flashing from the sea and bombs exploding in fiery cones on the Italian positions. Then a mobile British column led by tanks moved forward and hit the Italian line fifteen miles south of Sidi Barrani. The Italians fought back but were overrun after a short fight. The British force then struck north into the flank of the Italian positions in the Sidi Barrani area while
the British 7th
Armored Division headed west, aiming
for a penetra-
tion deep in the rear of Graziani's forward troops.
Only 31,000 British troops were involved in this series of swift maneuvers, compared to the 80,000-man Italian force in the forward zone. But the British had built up a superiority in armored strength. They had 275 tanks 35 of them the heavily armored Matildas that threw such a scare into General Rommel's 7th Panzer Division near Arras on May 21. The rest were new Crusaders or Cruiser Mark VI tanks. The Italians had only 120 of the inadequate L/3'sandM/ll's. The 26.5-ton Matilda was designed for infantry support. Con-
was too slow to make it effective in other roles, but it had armor up to 75 millimeters about 3 inches thick and was armed with a machine gun plus a 40-millimeter 2-pounder gun that fired solid shot only. It was an
effective tank against the Italians
could not penetrate
with their 37-millimeter tank and antitank guns. The more lightly armored Crusader, weighing 19 tons, was faster but still was armed only with a low-velocity 2-pounder, 40-millimeter gun and machine guns. Yet it, too, was far superior to the Italian tanks. As the British outflanking attack began to roll up the right side of the Italian hne and penetrate deep into rear areas. British infantry supported by tanks launched a frontal attack against the Italian hne while British naval guns continued to pound the ItaUans from the sea.
So fast had the attack developed that the Italians were caught completely unaware and were thrown into confusion. Swarms of
camps where Three Italian divisions
British soldiers with fixed bayonets broke into Italian
the officers were just sitting down to eat. were destroyed in this pounding and the Italian position crumbled. One of these, an Italian Black Shirt division, fought bravely to the end but Sidi Barrani fell. Soon the Itahan army was in full retreat, streaming back along the Via Balbia and other roads to the rear, with the British in swift pursuit. The British columns were moving so rapidly that they were sometimes out of touch with their headquarters. The story is told about one angry commander who finally estabhshed radio contact with one of his forward leaders. "I say, old boy, where in the bloody hell are you?" he shouted. Back came the faint reply in crisp proper British English "I'm really not quite sure,
just passed the first
Buq in Buqbuq Whether the story is true or not, the British captured 14,000 prisoners at Buqbuq and pressed the Italians back to their starting points at Halfaya Pass and Salum. The Itahans were completely out of Egypt by December 15 only eight days after the British offensive
38,000 Itahan prisoners and more than 350 Itahan guns battlefields behind were strewn with the burned-out shells of Itahan tanks torn apart by British fire. All this In
were captured and the
Tanks and Armor had
But the major part of supplies. Wavell knew that as long as it existed the Itahans were still a threat to Egypt, so he made preparations to catch up with and destroy this force, part of it now withdrawing into the coastal fortress cities of Bardia, twenty miles beyond Salum, and Tobruk, still farther up the cost the British only
had plenty of
had a genius
and had Bardia was
for building fortifications
spared no effort to prepare defenses at both locations. surrounded with prepared machine-gun positions, positions for antitank guns, flamethrowers and heavier guns, row after row of barbed wire, antitank ditches,
depth of more than six miles. Inside the defenses some forty thousand Italian troops, their morale badly shaken by the string of British successes, waited for the battle to be renewed. to a
The British 7th Armored Division laid siege to Bardia in midDecember and waited for the newly arrived 6th Australian Infantry Division to join it there. The Aussies are among the toughest troops in the world,
and proved repeatedly
in Africa that they deserved the
reputation they had established, along with the Canadians, of being
among the finest
World War I. On January 3, 1941, the British navy and air force battered the Itahan defenses. The Australian engineers worked their way forward, cutting the wire and breaking down the sides of the antitank ditches. The heavily armored Matildas, followed by infantry, stabbed into the western flank of the Italian defense system. The attack became a series of individual battles as each strongpoint was reduced, but the British edged forward, and by the afternoon of January 4 white flags were beginning to appear. Finally the exhausted defenders laid down their arms and 45,000 prisoners were marched off" into British prisoner-of-war camps. Another 462 guns were assault troops in
Tobruk was a stronger
even more quickly to almost identical tactics. Infantry tanks spearheaded the Australians' attack launched on January 21, 1941, and by the next morning it was aU over, with another 30,000 prisoners in the British compounds. Wavell was now ready for his final assault to wipe out the Italian African forces forever. The Australians led a northern column straight up the coastal road, repeatedly overrunning rear guards of fort
Through Gazala and Derna the pushed their northern attack while assembling their main armored forces at Mechili, some fifty miles to the south, for a new swing in behind the Italians if and when they made an expected
the slower-moving Italian columns. British
stand at Benghazi.
Suddenly an intelligence report flashed into the British headquarters that the Itahans were abandoning Benghazi and were now in full flight down the Via Balbia. Instructions were sent to the armored force to cut them off, by making a 150-mile dash straight across an uncharted sector of the desert that even the natives avoided.
The savage Ghibli wind was rising as the shivering and exhausted tankers pulled out on February 4, guided only by compass. The wind shrieked and screamed and wind-whipped sand lashed the faces of the tankmen trying to grope their way through the darkcolumns of tanks, trucks, and towed guns struggled forward throughout the night and came bursting out of the wilderness near Soluk about noon the next day. They were right on target. There spread before them were the Italians
ness. But despite the conditions, the
the coastal road.
Deploying quickly into battle formation, the British tanks began to rake the Itahans with tank gun and machine-gun fire. But this time the Italians were fighting for survival and resisted savagely. They had a new tank in the line that day, too the M/13, newly arrived from Italy. The M/13 corrected many of the design errors of
main gun mounted in the hull, where it had limited movement from side to side, the main gun was put in the turret, enabling it to fire in any direction. This also meant that less of the tank had to be exposed to the enemy when firing from behind a rise in the ground. Another big improvement was increasing the caliber of this gun from the inadequate 37 millimeters to 47 millimeters. The crew was enlarged from two to four men and there was a more efficient arrangement of three machine guns twin guns in the hull and another gun mounted next to the 47-millimeter. Unfortunately for the Italians, however, their armor was moving the M/11. Instead of having
in small groups within the Italian columns, permitting the British
overwhelm these clusters of tanks as they appeared. All through the day and into the night the fighting continued with the Italians
Tanks and Armor in
clinging stubbornly to the high ground along the coastal road. Italian artillery slugged
out with the British artillery through the
Throughout the next day the two armies pounded
each other. back whenever they gained a foothold on the higher ground. While this indecisive struggle swayed back and forth across the sand dunes, the AustraUan coastal column neared Benghazi from the north and the British armored force worked its way around the Itahan flanks. The next day the end was near. The Italians tried one more time to break out; then their force began to faU apart. Individual battles against pockets of resistance continued but finally white flags began to appear. By evening of February 7 the fight was aU over. As the firing gradually subsided and the British rounded up their prisoners, a British observer flew over the area in a light plane and peered down at the torn and battered ground. For ten miles up the coast the battlefield was httered with wreckage, smoking hulls of tanks, burned-out trucks, and crumpled bodies the terrible harvest of war. The army of Marshal "Lucky" Graziani had been destroyed as an effective fighting force by a British army only one tenth its size, but with vastly superior equipment, much greater mobihty, and far better abihty to fight a war of movement. An amazing 130,000 Italian prisoners, 1,300 guns, and 400 tanks were captured in the campaign.
Italians counterattacked repeatedly to force the British
But the war in Africa was far from over for either the Itahans or had already been made that would swiftly and drastically swdng the tide of battle in another direction. the British. Decisions
Rommel, Wavell, and Auchinleck From
watched the growing North Africa with increasing dismay. He did not think that North Africa was an important area in the war, but he was concerned about the effect the loss of Africa might have on the Italians. He was afraid that the British might threaten Italy with heavy bombing attacks from North African bases and perhaps his headquarters in Berlin, Adolf Hitler
tide of Italian defeats in
force his ally to seek peace. Italy
was deeply involved
in other troubles too. After launching
his attack against the British in
Egypt on September
Mussolini sent five columns of Italian troops, led by tanks, marching into Greece from Albania. This attack, on October 27, 1940, turned into almost as
of a disaster as the Italian invasion of Egypt.
little army had forced the back into the Albanian mountain passes and was on the
the time winter arrived, Greece's tough
astounded by these failures, paced back and forth in his Reich Chancery in Berhn, striking a clenched right fist into the palm of his left hand and muttering to himself. What should he do? His own armies were massing for an attack against the Soviet Union the only remaining land power in Europe Hitler,
office at the
that could be a threat to his new, all-powerful
Reich, as the
be diverted from be forced out of the war.
But he also did not want Italy to For many nights the hghts burned late in government buildings as Hitler conferred with his generals. Finally two major decisions were reached that would have a major impact on the North African fighting ( 1 ) Marching orders crackled over the telegraph wires to German divisions already in Bulgaria; and (2) an officer was directed to locate General Erwin Rommel, who had led his 7th this.
— Tanks and Armor
Armored Division so brilliantly in the 1940 attack through Belgium. Rommel, relaxing at his home on leave, received the officer's message there. It said he was to report immediately to Hitler and Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch in Berlin. It was February 6, 1941 the day Italian forces were fighting
desperately to break through the British encirclement at Benghazi
when Rommel marched smartly up to Brauchitsch, saluted, and was filled in on a new assignment. He was to be given command of a German "Afrika Korps" of two divisions that
be sent to North Africa to rescue Mussolini's
collapsing forces. His mission, he
to stabilize the front
and prevent a further British advance. Under no conditions was he to undertake any major offensive operations at this time. Meanwhile, the German divisions in Bulgaria began to move toward Yugoslavia, which had at first granted the Germans permission to pass through its nation to fight the Greeks, then withdrew that permission after its people rebelled. This southward flow of troops became a rumbling tide of German tanks, infantry, and artillery, deployed in battle formation, that swept through Yugoslav armies in three weeks and brought Greece's armies, which were
attacking the Italians, into great peril.
become conman, a long black cigar pro-
the turn of another nation's leader to
cerned. In London, a stocky, stooped
truding from the jowly folds of his scowling face, stomped back and forth before his top generals, storming at
necessary to get help
to the direly
There was something familiar about him the pink layers of flesh beneath his chin, the buUdog look, the bent head with smoldering eyes peering out under a scraggly tangle of heavy brows. Yes, it was a much older but still the same Winston Churchill who as First Lord of the Admiralty in World War I had stepped in and made development of the tank possible. Now he was Prime Minister of Great Britain, called on to lead his nation out of its gravest national crisis :
Decisions were reached and coded orders messaged to General
now slowly regrouping in Tunisia and forming up for further advances after the shattering defeat it had inflicted upon the Italians. Three divisions, some 74,000 men including an armored brigade, supporting air squadrons, and a corps
Wavell's victorious army,
Rommel, Wavell, and Auchinleck ward off the from twenty German divisions. coming blow Now two major changes in the African theater of combat began taking place simultaneously. A major portion of Wavell's tough, experienced desert fighters were transferred to Greece under guard
of artillery were ordered to the mainland to help Greece
of the British Mediterranean Fleet.
soldiers of the 5th
Light and 15th Panzer Divisions began pouring into Africa, scores of miles behind the collapsing Italian front. If the British ships
had not been
ment Germans crushed
up with protecting the movethem later after the
of troops to Greece, and removing
the Greeks, they might have inflicted heavy losses on the convoys bringing the Germans to Africa. But the Germans were not molested, and supplies of men and equipment arrived safely in Tripoli, the capital city of Libya's northeastern province
Rommel, one of the most brilliant German officers of the war, knew he was faced with a very dangerous situation. The remnants of Graziani's army were fleeing to the west, including hundreds of soldiers who had thrown away their arms and were trying to reach The British were close behind them and soon occupied El Agheila, right on the border of Tripolitania, but in the adjoining Libyan province of Cyrenaica. The British were ready to continue their advance. Only hastily thrown-up Italian minefields safety in Tripolitania.
beyond El Agheila, and a thin Italian covering force still farther west near Sirte, stood between the British and the remaining Itahan, plus the new German, forces. Rommel flew over the thinly held Itahan positions at Sirte on February 12, had German planes attack the British near Benghazi the same day to slow their advance, and took steps to get the retreating Italian divisions turned around and headed back toward Sirte. The same day on which the Italians started forward again, February 14, the first German units arrived in Tripoli. They unloaded all night, formed up the next day, and less than two days later were in position near Sirte. So far, only a reconnaissance battalion and antitank battalion had arrived, but Rommel was eager to create the impression that his available forces were much larger. He built many dummy tank frames around Volkswagen automobiles and had them spotted where British photo-reconnaissance planes would be sure to see them. And on February 23 he sent the reconnaissance 117
Tanks and Armor battalion, antitank battalion,
and a column of
Italian troops into the
NofiUa area with orders to make contact with British troops. In a brief encounter, two British scout cars and other vehicles were destroyed. Another thrust on March 4 permitted him to seal off a defile at Mugtaa with mines. And then on March 24, the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion swooped wells
El Agheila. They captured the fort,
while the small British force there pulled back
The British studied these moves and the intelligence reports they were receiving on the German strength and intentions in Africa. Their agents in Berlin and Rome correctly reported that the Germans were under instructions not to attempt any major fighting in Africa until at least May when two or more German divisions, plus new Italian units, might be in the line. Reports by British patrols seemed to confirm this estimate, so General Wavell felt reasonably secure for the time being, despite his great loss in troops sent to Greece.
seemed highly unlikely that the new German commander.
General Rommel, would launch any serious attack when the only German reinforcements that had arrived in Africa were the 5th Light Division, which had fewer tanks than a regular panzer divi-
and some supporting arms. The British reasoning was sound but it failed to properly consider Rommel himself. He was a daring, brilhant, and forceful commander, thoroughly schooled in Germany's advanced understanding of how to use armor in concentrated formations, in balanced mobile teams of infantry, artillery, antitank, engineer, and other units. Bold and imaginative, he was also flexible, capable of changing his plans quickly when operations went v^rrong or unexpected opportunities presented themselves. He was personally brave, seemingly inexhaustible in energy, spent perhaps too much time up front under fire with his troops, and had the wisdom to give prisoners decent treatment and demand the same for German prisoners. He became such a legend even to the British troops who fought against him that British commanders had a psychological problem at times convincing their men that he could be defeated. Born November 15, 1891, at Heidenheim, Germany, he became a twice-wounded veteran of World War I who was decorated with the Iron Cross, 1st Class, and Pour le Merit. Now at fifty he was rather short in stature, alert, muscular, very aggressive, and on the threshold of the most spectacular period in his career. sion,
Rommel, Wavell, and Auchinleck In his headquarters at Sirte, he wrestled with his most immediate problem. His instructions from Berlin had made it clear that he was
not to consider any serious offensive moves before the arrival of the 15th Panzer Division expected sometime in May. But he felt a
major opportunity was rapidly slipping away. The British forces, seriously weakened by loss of the troops sent to Greece, were digging in and fortifying the Mersa el Brega defile immediately east of El Agheila. It extended south from the coast
•EL HA8EIAT ECAGHEILA
a salt marsh. They were also in force south of the marsh. If allowed to strengthen these positions, the Germans would have much greater trouble later gaining control of the defile, which they felt was needed for further attacks to the east. Rommel decided to to
In the darkness of early morning on March 31, 1941, British outposts suddenly became aware of the clanking of tank tracks in the distance and the muffled sound of motors. Suddenly the clanking
was very near and Germans could be heard shouting to each other. One British reconnaissance patrol watched a line of the tanks pass by less than
yards away, then bolted for their reconnaissance
Tanks and Armor car.
They raced away with one of the tanks
Warfare in close pursuit.
quick turns and they lost the tank in the darkness.
Other reports of German tanks on the move poured into comheadquarters. Soon heavy guns were firing, the flash of their muzzle blast stabbing the darkness, followed quickly by the crack of the explosion. Then there were more flashes, the rumbling growl of artillery, and rattling bursts of machine-gun fire. By daybreak British and German reconnaissance units were locked in a running, swaying fight along the approaches to the Mersa el Brega defile. At each of the various levels of British headquarters all the way back to Wavell's GHQ there was confusion and consternation. What was going on? The reports coming in indicated a major attack was under way. But how could Rommel launch an attack of any size with only one German division and the recently defeated, although reinforced, Itahan desert army? The British had been caught off guard with some of their best armored units completely out of the line, refitting in Egypt. And the major portion of their experienced desert force was in Greece, bracing for the coming German attack
any doubts that the British might have had about Rommel's intentions had been completely eliminated. Tanks and troops of the 5th Light Division, raising a great cloud of dust, advanced in full battle formation on the main British defensive positions at Mersa el Brega. German artillery pounded the British line and an answering British bombardment screamed down on the Germans. The Germans tried again and again to break through but each time their attack was halted. Rommel, studying his failure, raced north to see what the possibilities might be of a new thrust there to unhinge the British hne. As a result of this reconnaissance, the 8th M.G. Battahon was thrown in between the coast road and the sea. Stabbing straight ahead over the sandhills, the battahon's attack picked up momentum and soon the British were in retreat. The Germans cleared the defile quickly. The next day their reconnaissance planes showed a general British withdrawal was under way and Rommel decided to push on. On April 2 his tanks captured Agedabia after a brief fight. Now the German commander decided he was strong enough for early afternoon,
even bolder moves.
long ago noted that beginning at Agedabia the
Rommel, Wavell, and Auchinleck Libyan coastline jutted north into the Mediterranean, then sloped gradually back to the south, leveling off near the Libyan-Egyptian frontier. This protrusion, sometimes called the "Cyrenaica Bulge" because it was the northern edge of the Libyan province of Cyrenaica, offered great opportunities for quick major advances to a daring commander. A quick look at the map showed that any army that stayed close to the coastal highway, following the "Cyrenaica Bulge"
and back to the south, could be cut off from its rear supply areas by a thrust across the base of the bulge to the coast to the north
near the Egyptian border. With this in mind, Rommel now began a series of swift maneuvers that permitted him to make the most of the present disarray in the British defenses. He pushed on quickly twelve miles beyond Agedafought a brief skirmish with British tanks, and left three of his theirs burning in the sand. Then he sent the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion racing up the coastal road for a quick frontal bia,
and seven of
The next day, April 3, Wavell decided to abandon Benghazi. Towering columns of smoke rose from the city as the British set fire to their supplies there and slowly attack on British-held Benghazi.
was probably wise they had done so, for new threats were developing to the south. Rommel sent two new columns of troops racing across Cyrenaica. The first, made up of parts of the 5th Light Division, struck northeast into the desert wilderness toward Ben It
Gania, Bir Tengeder, and the northern coast near Derna. The second, a httle to the north of the first, was made up of parts of the 5th Light and of the ItaUan Ariete Division, in Africa.
had been landed in
Tripoli during the closing days of
Wavell's route of Graziani's forces. This column moved first north then east to Msus, and then northeast toward the British position at
El Mechih in east-central Cyrenaica
same spot from which
Wavell had launched the armored thrust across the desert in February, which intercepted the Italian forces fleeing south from Benghazi on the coastal road. Benghazi fell to the Germans on the night of April 3 as the two thrusts across Cyrenaica to the south were beginning to roll. Rommel again split his forces at Benghazi and sent an Italian division in pursuit of the British up the coast road, and launched still another column directly east from Benghazi toward Mechili. This 121
— Tanks and Armor
three columns converging
on the Mechili area
— the main 5th
Light Division column, which would cut in behind the British posi-
and block escape to the east, while continuing to drive on Derna on the coast; the 5th Light-Ariete column that strike would at Mechili from the southwest; and the new column sent directly east from Benghazi to make a frontal attack on Mechili. tion there
the village of
April 8, sweaty, dust-covered
Division were rolling through the streets of Derna in their sandstaring at the twittering hordes of swallows pausing there en route north for the summer. Mechili was under heavy attack, too, and the newly arrived 15th Panzer Division was beginning to arrive at the front to join in the fight.
the British were retreating in two directions
— both into
the fortress coastal city of Tobruk and eastward back across the Egyptian border. By April 11 these movements were substantially complete and the recapture of Cyrenaica in twelve days of brilliant
maneuvering was over. But Rommel had no intention of stopping where he was. For one thing he was very concerned about the British hold on Tobruk. The city had a good port which he needed so that his supply ships from Europe could unload their cargoes much closer to his front lines. In addition, if the fort could not be taken, he would divide his forces, leaving some to contain the British garrison there, while his other troops continued the attack to the east.
optimistic that he could capture the fort.
morale was low because of the defeat the had been heavy, including more than eight hundred men and two generals, and that they had been seriously disorganized at times during the recent fighting. What Rommel did not know was that the British could suddenly become hard as steel. Not only were there large contingents of tough Australian troops in Tobruk, but British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had ordered that the port be held at all costs. The British were ready to make Rommel pay for every foot of ground he might take. Besides, defending the fort would be what generals like to call "positional warfare" that is, fighting in a relatively fixed position
just suffered, that their losses
and the British excelled at this. While some of his units continued force retreating to the east,
pursue the main British sent two Italian divisions
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY
r^^-^^'- k^ ^^^_
British tank "Little W'ilHe."
on an early vintage British tank during World
Infantry ahead of tanks during
The 1916 Model
of a Schneider
One of the tanks that supported the successful Austrahan-American attack
upon the Hindenburg Line near
French tanks returning after aiding American troops on Juvigny, August 29, 1918.
French Schneider tank hauHng a disabled Schneider
in for repairs,
near Meuse, France, October 1918.
Renault tanks crossing trenches at Tank Corps School near Langres, France.
Small tank used to smash pillboxes, Laronville, France, 1918.
French Renault tank used by the American
American troops manning French tanks go
car T-1 (Christie) on tracks.
The T-1 medium
tank, vintage 1927.
German light tank, PzKw II.
VI, the "King Tiger."
German tank column advancing along the Brahe River south of Danzig during Nazi invasion. Tank in foreground was one of smallest in the German Army.
American M-3 tanks on desert maneuvers
American tanks pass German Mark IV's that they have knocked out in battle. Near St. L6, France, July, 1944.
A General Sherman tank makes its way up to the front lines "somewhere
in France." It
equipped with the new pusher blade.
3rd Armored Division tanks open
of a Tiger tank
outside Breiming, Germany.
mounting a 120-mm gun, captured by U.S.
8th Infantry Division, April 1945.
An M-4 tank of the
5th French Armored Division
position on the outskirts of a
of the 9th Division ride a bulldozer tank as
through a break in the supposedly "impregnable" Siegfried Line.
knocked-out German Tiger tank, courtesy 2nd Armored Divi-
sion, after the repulse of a
its crew retreated back to Germined, but charges failed to Luxembourg. Tank was many from
This Panther "G" ran out of gas as explode.
howitzer, M-44, ordnance equipment on
display at Fort Myer, Va. in 1956.
tanks roll through clouds of dust in an assault problem
during training in 1962.
New family of self-propelled artillery is
Proving Ground. Left to right are: T-195, a 105-mm howitzer; T-196, a a
howitzer; and the T-236. In right background
new, full- tracked combat tank 105-mm-gun M60A1.
Rommel, Wavell, and Auchinleck swooping down on the outer defense
Tobruk. They purposely raised great clouds of dust to make the defenders think the force was even stronger than it was. Then Rommel sent the 5th Light Division hooking around to attack the fortress from the southeast. Other units were brought up and by April 1 1 the British position at line of
Tobruk was completely encircled. That same afternoon, German Stuka dive-bombers swarmed down out of the sky to smash at the British positions, and the main ground attack got under way. It failed. Another attack was sent in on April 13 and made some progress toward a deep antitank ditch that the Germans wanted to blow in, A heavier assault was launched on April 14 and again pushed the British back, but the Germans suffered serious losses of both men and vehicles under constant British artillery bombardment. There the German attack stalled again.
desert sun poured searing, scorching heat
stalemated battle. The
assault forces were pinned down.
They could not move without being picked off by Australian snipers. They could not dig in for protection. The ground was too hard and rocky. They had to lie motionless for hours, flies crawling over their eyes, lips, and faces. Many had dysentery and fouled their clothing. Only at night, or during a sandstorm, could they move around. They suffered, bled, and died, but Rommel ordered them forward again on April 16. The German infantrymen staggered to their feet and tried one more time, but were cut to pieces by the Australians' withering fire. Rommel finally decided the task was hopeless without better knowledge of the fort's defenses and special training for his troops to
General Wavell, meanwhile, had regrouped the rest of his army behind a line tied in to the coast just south and east of German-held Salum on the Libyan-Egyptian border. From there the British positions extended south around the eastern side of Halfaya Pass, the same strategic passage through which the Italian troops had marched when they launched their invasion of Egypt on September 13, 1940. From the rising, broken country surrounding the Pass, the line extended farther south to Habata where the British
assembled some of their tanks. Wavell,
who had shown
himself quite skilled in a war of move-
against the Italians, wanted very
push the Germans
Tanks and Armor far
enough back this,
so he could join forces again with the isolated
British garrison at Tobruk.
did not think he
had the strength
but there was a possibility that a sudden attack
would take the Germans by surprise, just as they had caught him down at Mersa el Brega. Besides, he wanted to try it
with his guard
before the full weight of the 15th Panzer Division could be brought into the fight against him.
dawn on May 15 Wavell
struck. His infantry rose
shallow holes and hit hard at the
up out Salum Habata
and in Half ay a Pass. Simultaneously the tank force at lunged swiftly in behind the German Hne, captured Fort Capuzzo, then struck farther north at Sidi Azeiz, inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans and threatening to unhinge their entire forward line. Rommel started reinforcements forward immediately, but before they could make contact Wavell withdrew his force because a German counterattack had taken Capuzzo behind his advancing armor. The British moved back to their original position but held on to Halfaya Pass which had fallen during the assault, only to have the Gemans capture it again on May 27. The British now began preparing for a much larger and betterorganized offensive given the code name of "Battleaxe." A convoy bringing
"Matilda" and "Cruiser" tanks had
journey through the Mediterranean to Egypt, providing the armor needed to reequip some of the British divisions. But whatever advantage the
new equipment might have
with the appearance of the
provided was quickly wiped out
15th Panzer Division in the
Wavell had great doubts that the offensive would work anyway. already seen ample evidence that the MatUda was too slow and its short 2-pounder gun too small to deal with the German Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks. The new Cruiser VI or Crusader tanks were faster but they too were undergunned. And the longerrange German SS-millimeter antitank-antiaircraft guns had inflicted terrible losses on British forces equipped with either tank before the Matildas or Cruisers could get close enough to fire back with their own short-range weapons. But despite WaveU's doubts, preparations for the attack continued. Truck convoys poured into the front areas with supplies. Officers and noncommissioned officers drilled their men on their
Rommel, Wavell, and Auchinleck assignments and the 7th Armored and 22nd Guards Brigades moved their tanks into position for the coming assault. At 4:00 A.M. on June 15, the British Tommies moved forward in the darkness. They drove the Germans back steadily toward Salum near the coast. Other units assaulted German defenses protecting the eastern end of Halfaya Pass, while a column swung around to attack the Pass from the west.
While these maneuvers were under way the 22nd Guards Brigade passed around the southern edge of the fighting, the exhausts of their tanks flaming like hundreds of blowtorches spread across the darkness of the desert, and drove north to attack Capuzzo. On the 22nd's left flank, also in massed formation, the 7th Armored Brigade raced toward Sidi Azeiz.
Everywhere the British attacks gained ground and inflicted serious losses on the Germans except at Halfaya Pass. There the Germans held, with the bodies of more and more British soldiers piling up outside the outer rim of their defenses. Late in the day, tanks of the 22nd Guards Brigade broke through the German lines at Capuzzo and captured the city. Moving through and beyond the shattered settlement, the Brigade's soldiers sighted a great dust cloud approaching from the north. Soon the dark shapes of tanks of the 15th Panzer Division could be made out moving through the swirling dust, and shells began to fall near the British tanks. The attack developed quickly and the fighting became violent, but the Germans withdrew at dusk, Early the next day, June 16, the 15th Panzer Division struck again at Capuzzo while the 5th Light Division started a wide swing down around the southern end of the fighting, planning to hook back in behind the British
and attack the
British positions at
Again and again the Germans hurled their tanks at Capuzzo, but the heavy Matildas fought them off. Panzers were blazing at many places in the desert and more and more of those not destroyed were damaged and scattered across the sand, waiting to be picked up and repaired by the Germans' excellent travehng workshops. The Germans lost fifty of eighty tanks that day and had to withdraw, but the British, meanwhile, launched a new attack back toward the east, capturing the village of
wild desert battle
was developing 125
to the south, too.
Tanks and Armor
Armored Brigade, advancing on Sidi Azeiz, brushed against the tank columns of the German's 5th Light Division as it made its
to the south. The British Cruisers pivoted to meet the and were soon heavily engaged. Slowly the Germans gained the upper hand, shooting up more and more of the Cruisers and advancing slowly on their goal of Sidi
Suleiman. Rommel immediately pulled his battered 15th Panzer Division out of the Capuzzo fighting, leaving a defensive screening force behind, and sent the 15th's tanks around to help the 5th.
The 15th was battered too by repeated British attacks but by early morning of June 17 both German divisions had fought their way through to Sidi Suleiman, leaving scores of destroyed British tanks along the path they had followed.
were stunned by the sudden development, and realwere now in a very dangerous position. The British armor was low on ammunition and gasoline, and the infantry hammering at Salum and Halfaya were in danger of being encircled. Rommel pulled the noose tighter. Giving his men no rest, he ordered the 5th Light and 15th Panzer Divisions to advance north and lift the siege of his troops in Half aya Pass. The British reluctantly set fire to their suppHes at Capuzzo and withdrew to the south and east. British
ized their forces
By mid-afternoon the German panzers were at Half aya and pressing farther north, but the battle was already over. The British had shpped back
to their starting positions before the trap
They had fought well under a fine commander and a good plan. But the undergunned British tanks were just not up to the demands made upon them. The slowness of the Matilda particularly contributed to the defeat. The 22nd Guards Brigade simply could not pull back from Capuzzo in time to help the 7th Armored Brigade closed.
fight off the
attack that struck deep into the British rear.
by the failure of the Wavell with General Claude Auchinleck, a tall, hard-driving officer who had long been an advocate of mobile warfare. Auchinleck was directed to start rebuilding the British desert army, soon to be called the Eighth Army, into a much more powerful striking force and, when it was ready, drive the Germans completely out of Libya. He was assured of ample supplies and troops. bitterly disappointed
British offensive, replaced General
Rommel, Wavell, and Auchinleck The new Middle East commander
tore into his task with a vigor
that completely upset the complacent life of the oversize British
Middle East military
which was a
worthless but almost universal piece of equipment for British officers
And when he let it hundred officers in his headquarters were about six hundred too many, the long-estabhshed siesta habit was abandoned completely. Auchinleck poured over his maps, his brows pulled down tightly in the center of a broad, slightly freckled forehead. His mouth was straight and wide, but grim, as he drafted the plans that were to move thousands of tons of equipment and refitted divisions forward in carefully guarded secrecy. Most of the movements were made at night, and during the day all the newly arrived material was hidden under camouflage nets and other screening devices. While Auchinleck made his plans, Rommel also made his. Tobruk was still a festering thorn in his side. It interfered with the move ment of supphes along the coastal road and kept too many of his in the area.
took no siestas in the afternoon.
that he felt that the seven
containing the British forces there. Besides, the
were a tough, aggressive lot. Organized into teams, they slipped through his lines at night, shot up
British troops inside
German soldiers, destroyed their vehicles and supplies, away before anyone could catch them. Sometimes they
bigger raids. Rommel feared one of these might be a major assault coordinated with an offensive by the main British forces to the east in an effort to link up the two forces. So Rommel was determined to capture Tobruk as a necessary preliminary step to a renewed German drive on Suez.
In his reorganization to achieve this goal, the 5th Light Division
was renamed the 21st Panzer Division, and a new 90th Light Division was created from independent units already in Africa. It had no tanks, but its four infantry battalions had unusually strong supporting firepower in three field artillery battalions, a battalion of the dual purpose 88-millimeter antiaircraft, antitank guns,
an antitank battahon. This regrouping, however, did not provide Rommel with any badly needed new troops and none were to arrive until the latter half of 1942. He was concerned about his supply situation too, with British air and naval attacks inflicting serious losses on convoys crossing to Africa from Italy. To add to these troubles, the German attack on
— Tanks and Armor
Russia, launched June 22, 1941,
made it even more difficult for him to obtain apGerman High Command for a buildup of men and
in the year. This
proval from the
supplies needed to complete the capture of North Africa.
Rommel's concern as he stomped angrily around
headquarters were continuing intelligence reports of great quanti-
and new troops arriving in Egypt for the British However, heavily armed reconnaissance patrols he sent on raids deep behind the British lines failed to turn up evidence of this buildup and Rommel pushed the possibilities of a serious British attack into the back of his mind. Therefore the Germans were caught completely by surprise when three long, rumbling columns of British tanks pulled out in the early morning darkness of November 18, 1941, on a wide swing around the southern end of the main German defenses south and west of Salum. The British offensive, carrying the code name "Crusader," was divided into three main assignments The XIII Corps was to attack and pin down German forces manning the main defense line from Salum, south and west to Sidi Omar; the XXX Corps, consisting of ties
Armored Brigade, 7th Armored Brigade, 22nd Armored Briwas to make an end run around the German defense line and smash through and destroy the German and Italian forces in the Tobruk area; and finally, the Tobruk garrison was to break cut and drive south to a linkup with the XXX Corps' approaching troops. Once this was accomplished the British would drive west and push whatever German
gade, 1st South African Division, and support troops,
forces remained out of Libya.
By the time the sun rose over the desert, lines of British infantry were strung out across the sand, advancing on Halfaya Pass and Sidi Omar. And a great, swirling cloud of dust marked the progress of the XXX Corps tanks approaching Gabr Saleh and Bir el Gobi south and east of Tobruk. The dusty, sweaty men in the turrets
knew they had almost 724
a two-to-one superiority in tanks this time
— and with their Tobruk garrison had the equivalent of
seven British divisions
to hurl against the three
German and seven
had more than one thousand airplanes to slightly over one hundred German and two hundred Italian aircraft.
Italian divisions blocking their way. In addition, they
midday before German 128
troops, resting in their fox-
Rommel, Wavell, and Auchinleck holes near Gabr Saleh, spotted the approaching dust clouds. Out-
came racing back to the line. "Tanks! Hundreds of them!" they shouted. The column of tanks on the right punched through the German outpost line, passed east of Gabr Saleh, and then drove north. The center column crashed posts
through the thin German defenses near Gabr Saleh and headed northwest for Sidi Rezegh, a German strongpoint with an airfield that would be needed. The southernmost column, also beginning the turn to the north, ran into the Itahans' Ariete Armored Division. In fight, the Italians were forced back on Bir el Gobi. complete was the surprise achieved that it was midafternoon So before the Germans fully realized that an offensive was under way.
up defenses and prepared
counterattack as soon as he could get a clearer picture of the British intentions.
the 90th Light Division in a blocking position
near Sidi Rezegh, but the 7th Armored Brigade smashed through and captured the airfield there on November 19. With this accomplished, the center column of British tanks was within ten miles of the outer defenses of Tobruk.
position looked serious, but a
major weakness was
developing in the British assault. The column of British tanks on the right
column, and the column on the ing off
more and more
and farther away from the central left assaulting Bir el Gobi was strik-
to the west.
This division of British strength
was looking for, a chance to concentrate on and defeat each column separately, and then turn on the remnants and destroy what was left. This was the main strategy he used throughout the North African war, and it was the key to his gave
the opportunity he
struck a preliminary blow on
sending part of the 21st Panzer Division (formerly 5th Light Division) against the right
on Gabr Saleh. But a
British tanks, driving
attack by the Tobruk garrison, led by fifty
tanks, broke through part of an Italian division the
same day and
threatened a hnkup with the British armor near Sidi Rezegh.
puU back and
drove the Tobruk units back
into the fort.
Regrouping, the German armor on November 21 seized high ground east of the British positions at Sidi Rezegh. Still fighting cau-
Tanks and Armor tiously,
the next day launched the 21st Panzer against the
British at the Sidi
and rear of the
the 15th Panzer Division slashed into the flank British column.
Following up this shght advantage, General Cruewell,
most spectacular maneuvers of the entire war. Moving out in a heavy mist early on the morning of November 23, he led his tanks in a smashing assault completely across the rear of the three British armored columns.. Reinforced with tank units from the 21st Panzer Division he then wheeled to the north, joined up with 120 tanks of the Ariete Division that came up from the southwest, and hurled this combined force against the rear of the British armor facing the 21st Panzer of the 15th Panzer Division, carried out one of the
Division's front at Sidi Rezegh.
massive curtain of British
out of the sky, and batteries of British antitank guns sent red
through his ranks. Tanks were torn apart, their exploding ammunition sending long strings of fire trailing across the sky. More and more tanks burst into flames from direct hits. The Germans milled around in temporary confusion. Cruewell tried to balls streaking
smash through under
the fire-spewing artillery curtain
at least the
when it seemed his force might German artillery began to solve
was no use. But just very damaging losses, the
worst of the shelling, but
the crisis. All the big guns that
could be brought to bear were used to knock out the
one by one. Finally Cruewell could advance again, leaving scores of burned-
out tanks behind. Picking up speed, the 15th Panzer and Ariete Divisions hurled their armor into the rear of the British forces.
overran and destroyed British vehicle and tank parks, supply dumps, rear-guard troops, and poured fire into the British armored formations attacking toward Sidi Rezegh.
were a very costly victory for the Germans. They had tanks and men in attacking the rear of the British armor as it fought north toward Tobruk. But the attack had also very severely mauled the British XXX Corps, leaving it with only about one hundred and fifty serviceable and badly scattered tanks, now falling back on the Gabr Saleh area. Rommel, who had been out of touch with the German assault
lost heavily in
Rommel, Wavell, and Auchinleck most of the day, thought Cruewell had scored a much greater victory than he had, and made a serious error in judgment. He thought the time had come for a bold assault that would bring on the collapse of the entire British African Army. Instead of concentrating on smashing the remaining British armor, Rommel left a weak covering force to block any new move against Tobruk, formed up his panzers, and led them in a wild
plunging ride toward Sidi out behind him.
the entire Afrika Korps strung
Scattered British units stampeded in
directions to get out of
the path of this armored juggernaut. Reports of the rapid advance of the panzers,
wake of the British defeat south of commander in the field, General
Sidi Rezegh, startled the British
Cunningham. He made preparations
for a general retreat.
But General Auchinleck ordered Cunningham to stand fast. Rushing up from his Cairo headquarters, Auchinleck countermanded the retreat plans and ordered a resumption of the offensive. A few days later he replaced Cunningham with his own chief of staff. General Richie. Auchinleck's action was one of the boldest and most decisive of the North African war. Meanwhile, Rommel launched tanks of the 15th Panzer Division
Omar, While the Indians beat off this assault, inflicting heavy losses on the Germans, Rommel led the rest of his force on Sidi Suleiman and sent other smaller task forces out to strike at British supply centers at Maddalena, directly south of Sidi Omar, and at Habata, southeast of Sidi Omar. The fighting was now becoming extremely confused, a series of battles raging at many locations and having little decisive effect on the final outcome. The 21st Panzer could find httle to attack in the Sidi Rezegh area. The 15th Panzer shot up the workshops of the 1st Army Tank Brigade on the afternoon of November 25. The Italian Ariete Division, which was supposed to have joined Rommel's armor in its raid behind the British lines, was held up west of Gabr Saleh by British tanks. And over the entire battlefield, British planes swarmed, bombing and strafing German tanks and their supply vehicles wherever they appeared. South of Tobruk, what was left of the British armor regrouped and began a new advance on Sidi Rezegh, reinforced by the 2nd at Britain's 7th Indian Brigade
the defenses at Sidi
southern anchor position of the main British
— Tanks and Armor
Zealand Division. The weather had turned
could during the North African winter.
suffering from lack of water and food, and and ammunition were running low.
were supplies of gasohne
in both armies
huddled in an overcoat in
headquarters at El Adem, watched reports of the
approach of the British troops from the south with increasing anxiety. He was Lieutenant Colonel Siegfried Westphal. Left in charge after Rommel led his armor behind the British lines, Westphal sent message after message to his commander, informing him of the increasingly
He received no reply. Rommel could not be reached. On November 26 Westphal's worst fears were confirmed. The Tobruk garrison burst through the encircling Italian and German troops
and linked up with the
Zealanders approaching from
the south. Acting on his own, Westphal ordered the 21st Panzer
Division to return and attack the
German armor had
to the Sidi
area after suffering serious losses in repeated indecisive attacks
behind the Salum front. Constant assaults by the British air force alone had taken a heavy toll of German tanks and other vehicles.
Rommel, refusing to give up the fight, launched his armor again and again at the New Zealanders. He finally forced the Tobruk garrison back into its fort and encircled the New Zealanders with their supporting armor. This fighting continued through December 7, 1941, the day when thousands of miles to the east, Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into the war as an ally of Britain. By that time, however, Rommel's losses were so great his armored strength was down to less than forty tanks that he began a slow and difficult retreat. First he had to withdraw his mobile troops east of Tobruk and start them to the rear. As this puUback began, the Tobruk garrison again burst out and joined up
in a firm front with the British to the south.
Rommel's army, more exhausted and depleted than beaten, began a slow retreat, first to Gazala, then Benghazi, Agedabia, and finally back to Mersa el Brega, where he had started his spectacular assault on the British eight months before, on March 31.
forces that beat off
carried out with great skill behind covering
from the equally exhausted 132
Rommel, Wavell, and Auchinleck
feared a major British effort to cut off his forces
they were in the "Cyrenaica Bulge," but their attack
the British struck,
was smashed with reinforcements
of tanks landed at Benghazi as Rommel's retreating columns passed
both the British and Germans turned to the task of rebuild-
ing their armies.
Drives on Suez
There was great rejoicing in British Middle East headquarters at Cairo. Rommel had been defeated at last. The remnants of his depleted German and Italian forces had made it back to Mersa el Brega, but one more British push should destroy them completely and open the road to TripoU far to the west. Then most of the northern rim of Africa would be in British hands, a magnificent staging area from which new assaults could be launched into what British Prime Minister Winston Churchill liked to call "the soft under-belly of Europe."
Auchinleck immediately began preparations for a new attack against the Germans, hoping to launch it by mid-May. But Rommel
not nearly as
close to final defeat as the British thought. In the greatest secrecy
he brought up new supplies of men and equipment, moving them forward only at night and keeping them camouflaged during the day, just as the British had done the previous November before their "Crusader" offensive. In this manner Rommel was able to complete the rebuilding of his army by mid-January without the British gaining any knowledge of renewed German activity. Rommel was unusually quiet during this period. He had little to say to his staff or to the Italians attached to his headquarters. He spent a great deal of time studying maps and apparently resting. Actually he was thinking and making plans. Finally it was time to
make the first move in his carefully thought-out scheme. He put up a good pretense of being dejected. And he let little
creep into his conversation that the Afrika Korps and its attached units might have to make a further withdrawal. This information,
passed from mouth to mouth, particularly through Italian channels, spread swiftly to Rome. It was picked up there by British spies, who
Drives on Suez
Auchinleck, but the British general was not con-
vinced. Further reports of similar nature
vague, but always the same message:
are planning another retreat.
Now Rommel was
ready for his second move. Having planted he set out to
false information in British intelligence channels,
the night of January 20, 1942, British outposts re-
burning in Mersa
the harbor. Surely this
Brega and sounds of explosions in that Rommel was burning supply
dumps and destroying ships so they would not fall into British hands when he pulled out! Actually what the outposts saw were empty houses burning and what they heard were explosives deliberately set in hulks of old ships in the harbor. Rommel did this to try to convince the British that he definitely was leaving. And while this German withdrawal was being evaluated by
latest indication of a
Rommel called his generals together and issued orders renewed offensive. It began shortly after dawn on January 21. British outposts were peering sleepily into the desert toward Mersa el Brega when suddenly the British,
they heard the clanking of tank tracks. the coastal highway
rolling over a rise in the
raced toward the British positions. The sentries spread the alarm quickly and once again the British chain of command was thrown into confusion by the suddenness of the assault.
A tank-led column smashed through the British lines near the Via Balbia highway while the main Afrika Korps armor swung out Armored combat group. Rommel concentrated every gun he could obtain on the destruction of this force, but as so often happened in the wide-open
to the south
and encircled the
spaces involved in desert warfare, the British fought their
almost half of their one hundred and fifty tanks plus thirty-eight guns, and thousands were taken prisoner. lost
Elsewhere, the fighting was going against the British, too. They had been taken completely by surprise and gave ground rapidly. Less
than three hours after the fighting began, German troops captured Agedabia.
While the German assault grew in intensity. General Auchinleck maps of the terrain between the front lines and the Egyptian border. He already knew it would be impossible to hold very much of studied
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare the area which his troops
Army — had
known officially as the British Rommel during the Crusader offen-
His eye kept coming back to the coastal village of Gazala and
there his finger finally pointed
make our stand
when he had made
was a natural choice. The terrain was favorable for defense. It was far enough east to be beyond the part of the "Cyrenaica Bulge" It
that could be easily cut off by a
across the desert.
it was far enough west to protect the British fortress and port Tobruk which had proved such a valuable strategic base for the British in the war thus far. So Gazala it was, and there the British anchored a new defense line which they began hastily throwing up to halt the Germans. As Rommel's advance continued, German reconnaissance planes reported great activity in the area extending forty miles south from Gazala to the village of Bir Hacheim, deep in the desert. Fortifications began to show in the German photographs and the Germans suspected that extensive minefields were being laid. The British Tommies labored almost around the clock. Soon an elaborate defense system began to emerge. Between Gazala and Bir Hacheim a number of strongpoints or "boxes" were constructed. Each was protected by an outer rim of barbed-wire entanglements, then minefields in depth, listening posts, and machine-gun posi-
covered gaps in the various protective layers. And each of these strongpoints was tied to the next by more minefields. tions. Artillery
and Free French troops moved in
man the fortified
"boxes" while the British mobile forces took up positions behind the
meet Rommel's main thrust. Closer and closer the ponderous, thrusting German columns came, battering down British rear-guard resistance while the main
to strike in
British forces labored in the tions.
to complete the Gazala fortificacaptured Benghazi and the tremen-
On January 29 Rommel
dous British stores there that were to have been used in the planned mid-May British offensive. Another German column struck on farther up the Cyrenaica coast and two German combat forces drove across the desert toward the new British line. By this time the bitter cold rains and winds of the African winter had suddenly given way to the hot but far more gentle weather of
Rommel the early African spring.
Drives on Suez
troops near the coast were
to see bright red, yellow, and blue crocuses pushing up from the soil. Even the bleak camel-thorn bushes were green, and in the Maraua
German columns passed through meadows sprinkled with and rimmed with cypress and pine trees, while green bushes
area the flowers
dotted the hillsides.
But the Germans had little time to contemplate this brief touch of beauty set against the dismal unending background of war. By February 6 their forces were pulling up along the eastern edge of Cyrenaica between Mechili and Temrad in positions overlooking the Eighth Army's formidable new Gazala line. There both armies
more and more supples to the front, building their up to full strength and making the final preparations for battle. Each had approximately 100,000 men, about ten divisions. By late May, Rommel was ready, and the British were watching carefully trying to obtain some indication of his intentions. Would
waited, rushing units
be a frontal assault, an attempt to crash directly through the Gazala line? Or would Rommel again try one of his long end runs, enveloping the British flank and driving into vital rear areas? it
Rommel finally made his move. In the early afternoon of May 26, German and Italian infantry began to advance on the Gazala front. Overhead Stuka dive-bombers streaked by, screaming down to pound the main British positions. Artillery joined in. Soon a heavy cloud of dust thrown up by the pounding enveloped the waiting British
But they could peer through and see an approaching hne of groups of men running in a infantry stretched across the horizon half-crouch, then dropping flat while others rushed forward. And far behind them a great cloud of dust was approaching. British airmen reported that it was from massed columns of trucks and armored units moving up behind the foot soldiers. Actually most of troops.
was kicked up by wind machines Rommel had attached to numbers
of the vehicles to create the impression that large
of mobile troops were following the infantry.
Now the rattle of small-arms fire was building up
across the front
and machine guns were firing in short bursts. The Stukas lifted their attack and moved farther back, while the assaulting infantry moved in closer. The filthy, sweating men were within earshot. Noncommissioned officers shouted commands. Soldiers were swearing and urging lagging groups forward. The
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare wire and began to
filter through gaps torn open by the air and bombardment. Men crumpled and others moved up to take
The shout went up as explosions ripped up through the running most advanced troops. They had hit a British minefield and the attack began to stall along that line. As dusk closed in, the
feet of the
dust cloud in the distance began to drift farther and farther toward the rear and the whole attack subsided.
The mission of the assault force had been accomplished. There had never been any intention of pushing the attack home. It was only an elaborate feint to deceive the British as to Rommel's true intention. Now, their movements masked in the descending darkness, columns of tanks and other vehicles that had been following the infantry suddenly wheeled and began a headlong dash to the south. There they joined with the waiting columns of the main German and Italian armored force. Promptly at 9:00 p.m. motors up and down the columns were turned over and the mass of vehicles edged forward across a desert bathed in brilliant moonlight. Through much of the night the rumbling columns rolled steadily south, then turned east, and much later north,
completing a swing around the bristling British defenHacheim, the left that is, southern anchor of
the British line.
filtered across the desert, the
good look at the tremendous array of power they were a part of. There spread all around them were tanks, half-tracks, self-propeUed guns, armored cars, motorcycles, small liaison and reconnaissance cars, and more tanks, tanks, tanks. All the vast array of a modern, armored army, backed up by motorized infantry and mobile supply first
rolling into battle.
on the right
Light Division and massed reconnaissance units
were the two long massive columns of the mighty 21st and 15th Panzer Divisions. It was a
of the Afrika Korps.
in the center
slow, steady tide of armor, spread over a front of
rumble of filled
more than ten thousand engines shook
the sun beat
down without mercy.
the heat, the rumbling motors, the sweat, the dust, the
Drives on Suez
approaching danger, and the empty vastness of the desert blended into an awesome sense of participating in a great human drama for every man in the moving columns. So far, the approach march was developing satisfactorily. The assault was on schedule. The movement had been made in good
Now where was the British armor? Only the flat, dreary expanse of the desert lay in front of the Germans. They intended to drive north to the coast, pushing the British tanks to the west and pinning them back against their own infantry in the fortified Gazalaorder.
This would also cut them off from the troops in the fortress of Tobruk and their supply base at El Adem.
But where were the British? Finally there officer,
tiny dark speck
on the horizon.
binoculars cupped against his eyes, swept the area where
had been seen, but the speck had disappeared. Behind a hillock a frantic British radio operator was trying to reach his headquarters. "That's right," he shouted. 'Tanks! Thousands of them The whole Afrika Korps is coming T !
In the distance far to the north of the frantic radio operator the British armor waited. Now reports of many sightings of the German
advance were coming in. Rommel must be moving his entire Afrika Korps in one body. Slowly the two armies groped for each other, the Germans pushing steadily north and out to the flanks, the British mustering armor far to the north to meet the panzers head on. Rommel sent the 90th Light, reinforced with reconnaissance forces and Italian motorized
on a separate strike at the El Adem area to from its supply base there. But he kept his main attack heading straight north. Now there were numerous black specks on the horizon and more troops, off to the east
cut off the
were appearing rapidly. "Attack! Attack!"
The command crackled through
The leading German paused
units spread out, increased their speed, but
to fire frequently.
dug into the sand ahead. Too short. Several the open aisles of the tank formation, slashing into the sand deep inside the mass of vehicles. Close. Too close. There was no time to move or duck when fighting against flat trajectory
The more screamed down
first British shells
Tanks and Armor
tank or antitank guns. They fired directly on their targets without arching their shells up into the air. There was only the "ssssssst
Whap" the rush of the shells' passage through the air followed almost instantaneously by the impact. "Crack!" A German tank near the center of the advancing front took a direct hit and burst into flames.
Moments later there was another hit. "Whoosh!" The explosive burst of burning gasoline enveloped the tank. Another one gone. The Germans continued to advance, stop, fire. Advance, stop, Then another tank burst into flames. Something was wrong. The British were tearing open the German ranks. Yet it was at such a distance that the Germans could not bring
eff'ective fire to
bear on those massing specks ahead.
north of the Germans, a British tank commander studied the approaching armor from the turret of his new American
tank. Peering through his binoculars, he
shots go in. There
the shattering explosion of the big
him again. The tank rocked and fumes welled up from the interior. Then he saw the tiny pinprick of flame flash up ahead and a pillar of black smoke spiral into the sky. "By God, you got him !" he shouted in glee. The crew inside the tank shouted at each other and talked excitedly. They pounded the gunner on the back. Other tanks were firing too. More flashes of fire spotted the horizon.
"By God, we're
them a bloody nose,"
commander shouted. "Til bet Jerry's having a fit." The Germans were caught completely by surprise. They were taking a pounding from the new M3 medium tank produced by the United States. The British called it the "Grant" after the U.S. Civil War general, Ulysses S. Grant. It was probably one of the most poorly designed tanks that the United States turned out during the
war, but the British were desperately in need of a new medium tank with heavy three-inch frontal armor and a main weapon of at least
75-milhmeter size. The Grant had both of these features and was rushed quickly into production in order to put such a weapon in British
hands in a hurry. to achieve this speed,
an existing tank design had to be used gun in a hull mounting on the right
that placed the 75-millimeter
Rommel side of the tank.
Drives cm Suez
The designers knew that it would have been much gun in a turret that could be turned
better to put the 75-millimeter
in any direction to fire rather than in a side hull
But they also knew that there was no turret in existence in the United States at that time that would carry so large a gun and the engineering problems involved in developing one would slow down the production of the tank too much. So they compromised. The 75-millimeter
would only have limited
mounting and a 37-millimeter gun was placed was also a supporting battery of machine guns
in the side
in the turret. There
side to side.
British soon received the
did a good job for a time,
and permitted the
British to deal
of that day and with guns which were used so skillfully. But the M3 turned out to have one deadly flaw besides its great height and poor gun arrangement. The 75-millimeter cannon when traversed in a certain position actually pinned the bow gunner in his seat because it prevented him from opening his hatch. Many bow gunners, unable to escape in the first few moments after a tank was hit and set on fire, lost their lives unnecessarily because of this. But in the Gazala fighting the 2 7- ton Grant was a most welcome new weapon that gave the Germans a very difficult time. The British Eighth Army had two hundred of them and was using them with effectively with the
their supporting 88-millimeter antitank
More and more German tanks were being torn apart. The German artillery was far to the rear and could not make its way far enough forward to deal with the British armor. And casualties were mounting. Finally, Rommel, with his usual genius for bringing order out of confusion, managed to maneuver a task force of tanks around the British flank and soon the Grants were being punished in return. Once again the German armor started forward. Fighting raged all the way, but the Germans slugged on north, through stubborn British resistance, to Acroma. Armored spearheads actually broke clear through to the sea in this area. Rommel was now on the verge of occupying the ground he had set out to take, but his losses had been extremely heavy. The British had lost considerable armor too, but still were full of fight and their formations formations were scattering. Their
Tanks and Armor
new command vehicles.
excited reports of
in over the radio
to the east!"
"Supply trains under heavy assault!" !"
ammunition Instead of continuing to strike at the head of the massed German armor, General Ritchie's tank brigades had retired to the east and now were battering the long extended right flank of Rommel's attacking column. The British garrisons in the fortresses of Bir Hacheim and Bir el Harmat were also striking out in sudden assaults against the German supply trains. And British artillery was shelling "Getting low on gasohne and
German formations while
British aircraft kept raking the supply
and bombs. was becoming quite serious. His supply trains were cut off from the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions and he personally was caught in the middle of the stampeding supply vehicles, unable to make his way forward far enough to find a solution that would change the course of the battle. More and more British armored attacks kept slashing into the
columns with machine-gun
realized his situation
eastern flank of his supply trains, increasing the confusion. Finally,
however, the excellent training of the German officers took hold. They grabbed antiaircraft and antitank guns out of the scattered and retreating supply formations, threw up a wall of guns along their eastern flank,
The next day Rommel personally led supply vehicles up to the Panzer Division, and then ordered the armor to fall back slowly. By May 29 he had pulled his forces back together, including the 90th Infantry, and had a new plan in mind to overcome the British defenses. He ordered the Italian Ariete Armored stalled 15th
Division to begin breaking a passage through the British minefields
from the west while he smashed through from the east, cutting the British line in two and regaining contact with his own rear supply areas.
was launched before dawn on May 30 and for a while Then suddenly a storm of machine-gun fire and a crashing cannonade of big shells lashed the German ranks. Where was it coming from? The German mine-clearing teams and forward infantry scattered and flattened out against the scorching, rocky ground. They could
Rommel see very
in front of
Drives on Suez
the desert looked almost equally
vacant in other directions. But every time anyone moved, the bursts of enemy machine-gun fire were stepped up quickly. Finally it became apparent that the source of the trouble was off to the right front. A careful check of the ground there through binoculars showed barbed-wire entanglements hugging close to the ground and beyond them what could be small outpost trenches. But whatever they were, they were very low and hard to see.
Orders came through for a probing attack. The Germans advanced in brief rushes and in small groups. The machine guns cut
was a well-defended
back to higher headquarters. More probing and reconnaissance determined that the Germans had stumbled across one of the British Gazala line "boxes" that the Germans did not even know existed. There almost astride their intended passage back to their rear supply areas were two thousand men of the 150th Brigade supported by eighty tanks. The strongpoint was located at a village called Got el Ualeb. Rommel threw in a small tank force to break through the defensive works. All twelve tanks were stopped by mines. The Germans hurled more infantry at the box and sent in Stukas to dive-bomb it, then more infantry attacks, but still the British held. Finally, on June 1, a battalion-size assault took the first British machine-gun positions and their defenses began to come apart. More dive-bombing, more artillery and the British surrendered. The passage through the minefield was completed quickly. of the
This was the turning point in the battle that had so heavily favored the British just a few days before. contact with his
British boxes one
Now Rommel had
rear-supply areas and began to
the night of June 1-2 he hurled the
90th Light and the Italian Trieste Divisions at the British and Free French forces holding the massive defense works at Bir Hacheim, the southern anchor of the British hne. From then until June 11,
finally fell, the
Italians attacked the fortified
having to take each defensive post one by one. The main British force remained bottled up in the other Gazala defense positions during this attack and did almost nothing, while the British armor was slowly worn down in poorly coordinated attacks on the now considerably expanded German passage through the British
Tanks and Armor
Modern Warfare became
were surrounded and destroyed. Thousands of British prisoners were
defenses at Got
taken. Finally on June 10, the remaining Free French forces in Bir
Hacheim broke out and escaped,
their then hopeless posi-
one of the most heroic defenses of the war. Now Rommel drove north toward the vital British supply center at El Adem. There he surrounded and destroyed most of the British tank force throvvm hastily into the fight. General Ritchie had again made the fatal error of dividing his tank forces, permitting Rommel to defeat them one tion after
at a time.
Now began a repetition of a scene that the British had hoped they would never see again. By June 14 divisions from the Gazaia positions were streaming back to the east along the coast road, a beaten army in full retreat. German artillery ranged in on their convoys leaving them in flames. German planes swarmed down on them, raking them with machine-gun fire and dropping bombs. Behind the retreating columns, great explosions could be heard back in the Gazaia positions as rear guards blew up supplies and equipment that could not be hauled to the rear.
General Ritchie threw up a protective armor screen south of the Via Balbia to hold off the advancing panzers, but this too had to give way as his losses mounted. Some British units, trapped in the Gazaia line before they could get away, broke out independently and retreated across the desert to the south.
of these, the British
50th Division, cut acrpss the German supply area and inflicted heavy casualties on the service troops as they went. The area near Acroma, just south of the coastal highway, was
hke an armored graveyard. The shattered and smoking hulks of scores of tanks were scattered across the high ground, some of them German, most British. There were bodies in almost every defile and wounded calling for help. Columns of German infantry were advancing north through the wreckage and a few medical teams were at work. Moving past them in the opposite direction were British prisoners, their faces bleak and desolate, etched with both bitterness and exhaustion. After more assaults on isolated but still resisting British forces one of which broke out and escaped to the in the El Adem area south Rommel massed his troops once more for an all-out assault on Tobruk. His units were all in position by June 19.
Drives on Suez
At 5:20 A.M. the next day the attack began. More than two hundred Stukas bombed outer defenses of the fortress, then Africa Korps infantry moved forward through passages cleared in the minefields. Slowly the Germans forced a breach in the British defenses although
under tremendous artillery fire. Before midmorning the antitank ditch that had stopped the Germans before had been bridged. British tanks counterattacked but were beaten off with heavy losses. At midday the strategic Sidi Hahmud crossroads was captured and by
was in German hands. The Germans continued to advance through the rubble and the flaming buildings. The end came before 10:00 a.m. the next day, June 21. The garrison commander. General Klopper, drove past ten
nightfall two-thirds of the fort
thousand British soldiers lining the road back into the center of town and signed documents agreeing to surrender his forces. The British were black with despair. Once again the Eighth Army had started out with a superior force and once again Rommel had turned what seemed certain defeat into a brilliant victory. British forces were streaming back into Egypt.
sands of British soldiers who had fought so bravely were prisoners and thousands of tons of suppHes had been lost to the enemy or destroyed.
Now Britain's lifehne with India and its dominant position in the Middle East were in grave danger. If Rommel could drive through Egypt and capture the Suez Canal, he would gravely weaken Britain's power to continue fighting. For it was in the oil fields of the Middle East that Britain obtained its main supplies of petroleum, petroleum that is refined into the gasohne and diesel fuel the British navy, air force, and land vehicles had to have to continue operating. So the stakes were high and the glittering prize of Suez lay only
hundred miles away. Already Rommel's armored columns were snaking out to the east, trying to overtake and capture the
retreating British before they could rebuild their shattered
effective fighting force again.
As Rommel launched this new drive to the east, so too was it evident that his army had also suffered greatly in the fighting at Gazala. His Afrika Korps was temporarily down to only fifty tanks
should be remembered that recovery units could
battle-damaged tanks back into operation. The and Trieste Divisions had only fourteen tanks. A good part of the trucks both the Germans and Italians were using were quickly put
Tanks and Armor
captured British vehicles and most of their supplies also were British.
Rommel's supply situation was
become increasingly critical and German equipment,
in the following weeks. Plenty of Italian
and soldier replacements, had been started on the way to Africa, but a high percentage of them never arrived. British ships were credited with sending to the bottom of the Mediterranean as
and German equipment as was already in Africa, although it was only a short voyage from southern Italy to Tripoh. To add to this slow draining away of German-Italian strength just at the moment when it was needed most, Rommel's supply lines were lengthening the farther he advanced toward Suez, and they were under constant attack by British planes. At the same time, the British supply lines were becoming shorter and tons and tons of new equipment and men were pouring into Egypt to stop Rommel before he could make his victory complete. General Ritchie decided to halt his retreating troops at Mersa Matruh, another coastal fortress, and build up a new line there to Italian
fight off the closely
the line, encircled the fort, and beat off a series of British counterattacks. At this stage of a very desperate situation General Auchin-
leck stepped in and took direct
of the Eighth
What followed was perhaps one of the most brilliant, but at the same time highly criticized, performances put on by any British commander in Africa. Auchinleck immediately ordered the Mersa Matruh position abandoned and fell back again to make his final stand at El Alamein.
long convoy of dirty, black ships edged through the narrow
Red Sea and steamed up the African coast toward lumpy objects covered
Suez. Their decks were cluttered with huge,
by canvas. Belowdecks, too, the holds were jammed with cargo. A thousand miles south of the convoy another cluster of ships plowed through the Indian Ocean, likewise headed for Suez. And hundreds of miles to its rear there was still another convoy, and then another. From Britain and the United States a great tide of military supphes was flowing toward Egypt over the long, tortuous route around the southern tip of Africa and then back up the African coast. It
was the only route they could follow without being 146
Drives on Suez
treme danger of being sunk by German submarines and aircraft prowling the much shorter route through the Mediterranean. The ships represented a desperate rescue operation launched to prevent Suez from falling into Rommel's hands that
would be disastrous
to the Allied
vided access to Britain's Middle Eastern
Suez, which pro-
must be saved
at all cost.
one knew this better than Auchinleck. While keeping a very on the locations of the approaching convoys, he was at the same time striving desperately to throw up a new defense line against Rommel's pursuing armor. The line was to be anchored on the coastal fortress of El Alamein, only sixty miles from Alexandria, at the mouth of the Nile River. And it was to extend south thirtyeight miles to an impassable area of broken ground known as the
fast as retreating units of the defeated Eighth
and put to work strengthening the defensive system. Other units were being rushed in, too, from Britain's Middle Eastern garrisons in Iran and Iraq, which were being stripped to virtually skeleton forces in order to provide in the area, they
were thrown into the
every possible soldier for the last ditch fight to save Suez.
of the approaching convoys
and of the dust
clouds moving toward Egypt from Iran and Iraq, dust clouds that
were made up of men and equipment he would have to fight soon. He knew he was in a race to drive his own weakened and exhausted troops on through the flaming wreckage of Mersa Matruh before Auchinleck could weld his Eighth Army and the arriving troops and supplies into a revived fighting force that could halt the Germans. Falling back behind a desperately resisting rear-guard operation, more and more of the gaunt, hollow-eyed men of the Eighth Army pulled into El Alamein and faced west once again. Each had to reach deep into his soul to find some last reserve of pride and courage to make him take up once again the seemingly hopeless battle against Rommel, the man who always seemed to win no matter what the odds. But find it they did and, despite their exhaustion, threw themselves into the task before them. The men ate, slept, and worked in relays, and slowly the new defense line emerged. But Rommel's forces had also arrived and the fighting was about
Tanks and Armor
Rommers hne and
plan was to smash the northern anchor of the British
armor behind the British positions. These were subthat had worked so well at Mersa Matruh. On the the advance began. The 90th Light Division struck hard just south of the El Alamein fortress, trying to break through and then turn and drive north to the coast, encircling the fortress. Immediately to the south the Afrika Korps also advanced on a ridge named Deir el Abyad only to find there were no get his
same tactics morning of July 1
British soldiers there.
The 90th Light made progress for a while. Then suddenly massed descended on its advance ranks. The veteran division almost broke up in panic, so heavy was the punishment. Although artillery fire
the division could not advance farther.
Meanwhile the Afrika Korps, continuing east from Deir
located the British in strength on a ridge just east of the one their
tanks had attacked.
as Deir el Shein.
attacked again in the afternoon. After heavy fighting, they took the position but at the cost of eighteen tanks time.
and on the ridges
to the south,
— a very severe loss
his attacks both at El
but again he was stopped.
3 he concentrated the 90th Light, the Afrika Korps, and the Italian
and hurled them at the El Alamein area, hoping again to break through and reach the sea. Again there was some progress until tremendous artillery fire halted the tanks. Littorio Division
Then, in a sudden savage thrust south of Rommel's attack. New Zealand soldiers emerged from a strongpoint named Qaret el Abd and smashed into the flank of the Italian Ariete Division, capturing all of its artillery. Many of the Italians broke and ran, and Rommel had to pull out part of his armor and send it south to protect his flank.
Auchinleck now began to use his groggy and exhausted forces boxer fighting a stronger opponent, knocking Rommel off balance every time he tried to get set for a heavy blow. Rommel started to pull his armored and motorized infantry divisions out of the line one by one to refit them behind the fines. Italian infantry divisions were to take over in each case. When the 21st Panzer Division started moving to the rear, Auchinleck combined
like a skillful
and smashed into the mass of moving Wild confusion followed but the British
three armored car regiments
German and Itahan
Drives on Suez
advance was finally halted. Now British tanks began to stab the German positions at many points and masses of British troops followed up with nighttime raids on the German outpost line. Parts of the German positions were seized, again causing Rommel to divert forces from the new offensive he was planning.
massed German-Italian armor
July 8 the
again, pushing back the British in the center of the line. But on
July 9 the Australian troops in the north burst out of the El Alamein
and overran the Italian Sabratha Division. The Australians push up both sides of the coastal road, driving wildly retreating Italians in front of them. The Afrika Korps headquarters was directly in the line of the Australian advance. Again Rommel had to give up his attack in the center and divert a task force to the north. A newly arrived regiment of the 164th Infantry Division was also thrown in and the breakthrough halted. On July 11 the Australians attacked again and inflicted severe casualties on the Italian Trieste Division. Something new was becoming apparent in the fighting. More and more the British were striking at the poorly equipped Italian divisions and were rolling up considerable gains. Auchinleck, unable to get his disorganized army into condition to launch a coordinated counteroffensive, was wisely striking at the weakest links in Rom-
despite his increasing losses
overrun the British defenses,
from round-the-clock bombing by the
Royal Air Force and the counterpunching tactics of Auchinleck. With the Australians temporarily halted in the north he thought he to tear open the British line. He moved the 21st Panzer Division to the north and on July 13 launched a massive attack, preceded by a heavy aerial assault against the El Alamein fortress itself. He hoped to break through to the coast and cut off
saw an opportunity
the Australian sahent.
next day, farther
and so did another, the
to the west.
July 15 Auchinleck counterpunched again.
Zealand Division and an Indian brigade broke through the Italian Brescia Division on Ruweisat Ridge south of the El Alamein fighting.
British force swept forward rapidly, then
was shoved back with
serious losses by the 15th Panzer Division.
More and more
British attacks shattered Italian positions in the
Tanks and Armor
German units being rushed to the area in damage. The British suffered heavy losses in these assaults, but Rommel's initial assault plan had to be abandoned and the fighting gradually subsided at the end of July. The German commander knew his hopes for victory were rapidly slipping away. Supplies and reinforcements were not arriving rapidly enough and the British were becoming stronger every day with new troops and equipment pouring into their Une. He had to make a decision. Suez and the entire Middle East lay in front of him, one of the greatest strategic prizes of the war. He would gamble everything on one last big offensive. The time was now. following two weeks, with
to repair the
El Alamein The moon had faded and
slipped behind a cloud. Only the bright
pinpoints of a few stars pierced the darkness. For
dozing under the overcast sky,
was a welcome and very
Suddenly there was an explosion in the German minefield near the southern end of the El Alamein line.
up and a German machine gun began shouts and the sound of
another. Flares went
to fire, followed
formed German reconnaissance patrol rushed forward. In the distance ahead of them, a motor burst into life and accelerated rapidly. The patrol, firing bhndly at the receding sound, pushed on rapidly. The soldiers found a shattered British scout car. Apparently a British patrol had stumbled into the German minefield and had to flee
quickly to avoid capture.
The Germans searched
British rations, perhaps even a bottle of
them was a bloodwas turned over to officers and immediately forwarded to Rommel's intelligence staff where all information on enemy troops was analyzed and judged. The German command was overjoyed. There seemed no doubt that the map was authentic and it gave them just what they had stained
of the things they brought back with
been looking for detailed knowledge of the terrain beyond the minefields in the southern half of the British line. Particularly important were markings showing routes to follow where there would be firm :
traction for tanks.
the British patrol returned to
unit and reported, there
command too. Perhaps Rommel had one of the great hoaxes of the war a map with false
in the British
Tanks and Armor
him astray. Time would whether he had taken the bait. And in the meantime there was much work to be done to meet the offensive Rommel was sure to
information, deliberately planted to lead tell
For weeks, long columns had been pushing up the coastal highway from Tobruk to the German positions at El Alamein. And an unusual number of transport planes had been landing and taking off from fields behind the German lines. British planes kept both the trucks and aircraft under constant attack, but considerable reinforcements and supplies obviously were getting through. Already British patrols had picked up evidence that the German 164th Light Division and the Ramcke Parachute Brigade were in the hne. And the Italians had been bolstered by the entire Folgore Parachute Division, a well- trained and very tough unit. Arriving with these troops were new versions of the Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks. The new Panzer IV Special was equipped with heavier prote':iive armor and a high-velocity 75-millimeter gun
British "Grant" tank with its
armor anc? 75-millimeter gun. And the new Panzer III Special was con? ''::'er ably improved, too, with much greater striking power in its new 50-millimeter gun. There was •^3reat activity on the British side also. New weapons were rolling off the arriving convoys and were being issued as rapidly as possible. The most important of these were a new British Mark III Cruiser tank, a new antitank gun, the new American M4 Sherman tank, and the new M7 self-propelled American armored artillery piece which the British called "The Priest." The new antitank gun was a 6-pounder approximately 57 millimeters which was also the gun mounted in the new Cruiser. It replaced the small 2-pounder gun in the earlier versions that had made the tank of httle value against the more powerful German armor. The tank was mechanically unreliable, however, just hke the earher Cruisers, and continued to be a source of trouble. frontal
M4 Sherman was
mistakes in the design of the M3 Grants. The biggest improvement was moving the main 75-millimeter weapon from a side hull mounting, where it had only 30 degrees of traverse from side to side, to a power-operated turret in the M4 where it could be traversed to fire in
The 30-ton Sherman was a modern, powerful tank in every way. With its three-inch frontal armor plate, cast-steel rounded turret, and powerful engine, it was for a short time the best tank in Africa, although it had weaknesses that were to show up soon. For one, its silhouette was too high that is, its height of nine feet two inches made it more difficult for the British to conceal behind protective ground formations, and easier for German gunners to sight and hit. Also its tracks were too narrow, causing the tank to dig in and become stuck in soft ground that other tanks could negotiate. And its medium-velocity 75-millimeter gun would soon be inadequate against the heavy armor of the huge Tiger and Panther tanks Germany would produce in the near future.
But the Shermans, particularly later versions with a high-velocity became the backbone of the American armored force through the war and were used extensively by the British, too. Operated by a five-man crew, they were to be a great surprise to Rommel at El Alamein. About three hundred had arrived at Suez and about two hundred and fifty were issued and ready for use. Of particular value during the coming fighting were the highexplosive shells the Shermans were equipped to fire. These projectiles exploded upon impact and broke up into scores of small fragments of steel traveling with death-deahng speed. They were designed for use against enemy ground troops of any type. Too often 76-millimeter gun,
in the past, British tanks could fire only the solid projectiles of
armor-piercing ammunition from their
up German infantry,
main gun when they had a
antitank gun crews.
The Priest represented another major advance in supporting weapons in an armored division. It was basically just a 105-millimeter cannon mounted on an M3 Grant chassis, but it represented the type of complete mobility that the German genius General Guderian had envisioned as being needed in all segments of the armored artillery
the British could have fully equipped light
just as fast as their tanks. This gave
bility for close-in
support needed to deal with antitank guns and
other logical artillery targets.
Watching the arrival of these new arms with the keenest of inwas a brisk little man attired in baggy pants, a sloppy pullover sweater, and a beret pulled over one side of his head. His bearterest
Tanks and Armor in
ing was not particularly impressive, but
when he spoke
carried an incisive snap of authority.
This was Lieutenant General Bernard Law Montgomery, key man in a complete overhaul of the British Middle East Command ordered
by Prime Minister Winston Churchill after the fighting at El Alamein quieted down at the end of July. General Harold Alexander replaced Auchinleck as commander in chief in the Middle East and Montgomery was named to succeed Ritchie, Auchinleck's aide, whom Auchinleck had relieved after the disastrous fighting at Gazala and Mersa Matruh. Montgomery was slender and wiry, had a keen mind, a whiplash tongue, a sharp, hatchet-like face, and an overwhelming confidence in his own wisdom and abihty. He was a man destined for many clashes of words and personahty with American generals later in the war. But he was a commander of considerable abihty, who brought to the very brave and repeatedly misused British Eighth Army a form of tightly controlled organization and leadership it had never had before. Montgomery welded its many diverse units into one team capable of striking with all its massive power at one time toward a specific objective, instead of as separate units fighting indecisive, uncoor-
dinated actions that could be defeated one at a time. Montgomery likewise
throughout the army's listed men's ranks.
and from them
into the en-
They would need it soon, for across the sandy wasteland at the southern end of the El Alamein line Rommel's great iron fist was drawing back slowly, ready for a smashing blow at the British and one last, all-out drive to break through to Suez. Rommel's plan was to: (1) hold the northern half of the El Alamein line with Italian infantry plus some strengthening German units; (2) breach the British minefields south of Qaret el
the southern half of the line; (3) hurl the 90th Light Division, the
two Itahan armored and one motorized divisions, and the German 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions through the gap; (4) wheel north and capture Alam el Haifa Ridge.
The Ridge was
commanding ground beginning
miles behind the British front and running almost at right angles
El Alamein to it in a northeast-southwest direction. It dominated all the surrounding terrain. Once the Ridge was in German hands the British would be forced into another retreat. When that happened, Rommel planned to turn the 21st Panzer Division loose in a lightning assault on Alexandria while the 15th Panzer and 90th Light raced for Cairo, the two major Egyptian cities on the Nile near Suez. Montgomery, fully expecting Rommel's move, stationed the 7th Armored Division opposite the point of the expected German penetration in the southern minefields and alerted his artillery and air units to be prepared to keep the Germans under constant bombardment. The 7th Armored was directed to throw up a strong defensive screen in front of the German tanks and fall back slowly to the east, giving ground as necessary, taking whatever toll it could of the attacking force. Under no circumstances was it to stand and fight.
Farther north Montgomery stationed the 10th Armored Division
advance toward Alam el Haifa were dug so that the lOth's tanks could take up protective, hull-down positions, exposing only the gun and turret, as they fell back to the northwest in front of Rommel's assault. On the main part of the Ridge, Montgomery stationed the full 44th Infantry Division, newly arrived from England. His strategy was to weaken, harass, delay, and wear away Rommel's strength during his advance until the German leader would have to give up the attack. Montgomery did not want a showdown with the German armor at this time. The days slipped by and the soldiers of both armies slept nervously under the glittering stars of the piercingly cold desert night, each knowing that a new battle would begin soon, a battle that he might not survive. In their loneliness, both Germans and Englishmen munched on their field rations and talked quietly of home. And sometim.es across the desert night the Germans could be heard singing a sentimental song of a soldier and his girl friend. astride
the west of the Ridge
"Underneath the lamplight
the barracks gate
I remember The way you used to wait
Tanks and Armor
"My own My own It
was a sad song
Lille of the Lille
that touched the heart of the British soldier,
soon he, too, was singing it. But now the gathering storm was breaking and there was no time for songs, thoughts of home, and hidden fears of death, for either British or
Rommel attacked on the night of August 30. German sappers moved forward in the darkness and behind them came the massive might of the German-Itahan desert armies 90th Light Division on the left, Itahan armor in the center, and the two German panzer divisions on the far right. The attack had hardly started before it ran into difficulties. The British minefields were much deeper and better defended than the Germans expected. Artillery crashed down on the closed-up German columns. Advance light tanks of the British 7th Armored raked the German mine-clearing teams with machine-gun fire, but there were :
up and take
the place of those killed or
wounded. Parachute flares plopped open in the sky, turning the struggling masses of men below into black paper figures and excellent targets pasted across the brilliantly hghted skyline. Fighter-bombers screamed overhead. The desert erupted into a forest of sand cones and thunderous explosions from an almost continuous shower of aerial bombs. Still the Germans advanced. Inch by bloody inch they battered their way through, but at daybreak were still entangled in the minefields. Finally, after six hours of a confused, running fight, the tanks broke through the last row of mines and drove east. The British 7th Armored Division, hammering the panzers with every available weapon, retreated in front of them as planned. But soon there was more trouble for the Germans. The firm ground expected, and marked out on the captured British map, turned quickly into loose, shifting sand. Tanks dug in and had to be pulled free. The whole column slowed down, wasting precious
El Alamein gasoline, while patrols
fanned out to the sides
to try to find firmer
the fighter-bombers were back, and the British artillery kept
tearing at the tortured Germans, but their assault finally began to
As the attacking columns turned north, British 7th Armored tanks stabbed them in the side, shooting up a few vehicles and then
running for cover. In one of the lead tanks a German commander jerked his head around suddenly and listened. What was that? He searched the horizon, then the sky for a clue and saw nothing. Then there it was again, unmistakably. Over the sound of battle the rising moan of the wind. Soon pellets of sand were stinging his cheek and the sky grew dark. The savage GhibU was back. In a great, screaming swoop the sandstorm enveloped the battlefield, swallowing up both armies in its towering walls of sand and racing air. Uncomfortable as it was, the storm was a blessing for Rommel. Under its covering blanket his assault force swept forward. By late afternoon the wind had subsided and the heights of Alam el Haifa were on the horion. General Fritz Bayerlejn, now commanding the attack, ordered a massive air strike and soon the Stukas were raining bombs out of the sky on the target area.
The order raced over the German radio net. The Panzer IV Specials dug their tracks into the ground and headed toward the shaken British infantry and armor. Halting, firing, then moving on, the individual tanks pushed "Attack! Attack!"
ahead on a broad front, working steadily forward in the slowly unfolding advance of a properly conducted armored assault, some tanks always laying down covering fire while the others were in motion.
The longer-range guns
They which Grants,
of the Specials took a frightful
upper halfs of the British could not take adequate cover in the prepared dug-in position because of their high silhouette and hull-mounted gun. tore into the exposed
smoke and leaping flames rose against the sky. The British were being hurt, but so were the Germans. The incoming British artillery was savage. So was the very accurate return fire of new British antitank guns. Both German and British tanks were Pillars of
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare
now and the attack was slowing down. When night fell was still no decision in the fighting. Then came the parachute flares again, the hissing, brilliant lights hanging in the sky. Then the bombs, more bombs, carpets of bombs, burning there
German vehicles. Germans were in trouble. The
followed by crackling fires of stricken
raids of the British 7th
Armored Division had
forward area. Rommel had only enough fuel Panzer Division against the British armor.
trains, seriously limiting gasoline reserves in the left to
launch the 15th
their usual skill the 15th's panzers battered
into the British defensive positions, but they
forward almost were paying a frightful
"crack" of armor-piercing steel tearing into
rang across the desert, and this time it was British tank fire as well as antitank guns that were doing the job. Throughout the day, too, swarms of British fighter bombers punished the Germans, scattering their formations and gradually making any concerted attack impossible.
German bombers on the
also swept in
British, but the British air superiority
that such occasional forays
a carpet of
chance of success. back and by the morning of Septemhttle
The 15th Panzer had to fall German armor was in a grave
ber 2 the
retreat but his fuel supplies
were so low that he could not begin the move. The Afrika Korps lay completely immobilized in the desert, a tempting target for a British counter assault, but Montgomery decided not to try
3 the German columns began streaming back over the route they had come. The attack was a failure. Rommel had been forced into a three-sided trap from which he had little
chance of breaking out. His lack of adequate fuel reserves when he began the attack played a part in this, because it made it impossible
him to attempt any wider enveloping movement of the Alam Haifa area.
planted fake map had hurt him, too, forcing his burn up precious fuel in floundering through soft sandy
And then Montgomery's
although very cautious, handling
El Alamein of his troops
Rommel's armored columns where they
could be battered most effectively by artillery and air power. The British 7th Armored Division had blocked any passage to the east
which never really got into the fight, blocked his passage north. And the mauled but skillfully commanded 10th Armored Division had slipped off to the left, preventing any drift in that direction while bringing him under fire from both the north and west. In one final attack before Rommel could pull back through the minefields, the 2nd New Zealand Division struck south against the
and ripped away
at his flank.
German left flank, but with little
The first phase of the battle of El Alamein was over and Rommel had lost heavily. Scattered across the desert his troops had crossed were the wreckage of forty-nine tanks, more than fifty guns, and all losses it would now be nearly four hundred other vehicles almost impossible to replace. The British too had lost sixty-seven' tanks, but they were able to recover and repair many of them. In manpower, the German and Italian losses totaled almost 3,000 men 570 killed, 570 made prisoner, and 1,800 wounded.
Strange things were going on behind the British lines. Before men from every unit picked up their
sunrise every day, squads of
equipment and marched off into the desert. There they practiced the most rudimentary movements and tactics of small group operations. Later, platoons and larger units did the same. In one training area, companies of battle-equipped infantry advanced through hve minefields while teams of sappers followed up behind, swinging mine detectors back and forth across their path. Working in pairs, the men removed and stacked the mines as they were located, then
the cleared lanes with white
another area, British artillery laid down a heavy barrage on empty areas, then moved it ahead in short leaps. Infantry in full battle equipment pressed in close behind the advancing wall of exploding shells, pushing forward rapidly as soon as the fire Ufted In
pound a new target area. Tanks were training, too, as were all groups and levels of the British command. The pace was exhausting. Days began well before dawn and continued until long after dark. The men of the Eighth Army were to
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare
although being hardened, retrained again in their basic jobs, and they did not know it rehearsed in special assignments they would
soon have to perform as part of a plan of attack Montgomery had devised to break the back of Rommel's forces in Africa. So many replacements had been pumped into the Eighth Army's ranks, so much new equipment had been received, and the upcoming operation would be so complex, that Montgomery felt he had to rebuild the army and its units from the ground up. The time was
demands to be made upon the troops very great. Montgomery was preparing his men for a set battle quite similar to those fought in World War I, rather than for the fluid battle of movement they had been used to fighting in Africa. He had no choice in this. For the first time in Africa, the two enemy forces were facing each other across a fully manned front that was tied to the sea at short, the
northern extremity and anchored
pression in the south. There were no flanks.
impassible Qattara De-
break through the other's front, and its deep protective fields of antitank and antipersonnel mines. Montgomery planned to do this by massing four infantry divisions in the north, hurling them through the German-Itahan line after a paralyzing artillery preparation, following up with sappers cutting corridors through the two very deep and dangerous German minefields, then rushing the 1st and 10th Armored Divisions through to
He was not
thinking in terms of his armor crashing through and
shooting up the
rear areas as
had been attempted so many
times in the past. At least he did not have that in
at this stage.
His goal was to get the armor through the minefields as quickly as possible, deploy
defensively to protect the breakthrough passage-
British tanks until the
batter away at the German power was
broken. All along the
to be the basic goal an eating away of the German "crumbhng" process Montgomery called it. Then, when the weakened German giant had been brought to his knees, Montgomery could drive forward with all his overwhelming strength for the final kill and conquest of North Africa. Playing the major roles in this well-thought-out plan were the 9th Austrahan, 51st Highlander, 2nd New Zealand, and 1st South African Infantry Divisions, and the 1st and 10th Armored Divisions.
front this strength.
— El Alamein
South of them three other divisions were to be involved in an main event. While the northern attack was under way, the 50th and 44th Infantry Divisions and the 7th Armored were to smash into the German-Italian defenses near Himeimat, force an opening through the enemy minefields, and pin elaborate sideshow to the
reserves in that area, particularly the 21st Panzer
Division, so they could not be
As a final backup for all this, Montgomery had three separate armored brigades poised for use at any time and in any fashion that might become necessary. The training for the coming assault continued at an increasingly rapid pace until finally officers were assembled and given full details of the plan of attack. Individual assignments were handed down to each unit. Each had a part to play. The Eighth Army was ready. The time of its greatest trial had arrived. When dusk slipped across the desert on October 23, the night was immediately filled with movement. In front of the British minefields, advance infantry units crawled out of the slit trenches in which they had sweltered all day and formed up in waiting columns. Behind them, other columns pushed forward through the gaps in their own minefield and took up assigned positions. Officers moved up and down the lines checking equipment and assignments.
Behind them, the sapper teams took their posts, mine detectors looking strangely like huge pancakes stuck on a stick in hand and ready. It was a most valuable machine, capable of teUing its user, by the interruption in an electrical current, when a metal mine was hidden in the ground. There was activity in the armored assembly areas, too, although for now the tanks had to sit back and wait for the infantry to clear
Farther back, crews stripped to the waist bustled around a long line of guns angled up toward the sky. Shells were piled in neat stacks nearby. Officers glanced at
watches and walked nervously from gun
over the waiting men.
"Take post!" The men jumped to their positions. Another command and the guns edged into a steeper angle i6i
Tanks and Armor
against the sky, wavered from side to side for a
locked on target. Moonlight glinted off the long barrels.
command and the loaders sprang into action. Clenched rammed the shells home. Breech locks snapped shut. Up and down the hne now the men were frozen in position, Another
watched the final seconds tick off on their watches. Finally it was 9:40 p.m. "Fire!" The command rang out all along the line. The night was torn apart by the earth-shattering roar of twelve hundred guns. The guns leaped and heaved in recoil. The darkness was swept aside by the sudden brilliance of leaping muzzle flames. Gun breeches were torn open, shells rammed home, and again the terrible earsphtting roar. Again and again the guns spoke, heaving and pitching against their moorings. There was no individual voice of separate guns now, only the continuous smashing cannonading of hundreds of guns and the thunderous sound waves blasting out in all directions. officers
The massive barrage of explosive steel hurtling through the down on every German and Italian gun position known to the British. For fifteen minutes shells tore at the German
night crashed artillery
and antitank guns, then
shifted to a rolhng barrage for
the advancing infantry.
Hundreds of Germans and Italians were killed in the barrage, communications destroyed. Commanders, unable to contact units, had no idea what was going on. The German and Italian artillery was temporarily paralyzed, unable their positions obliterated,
Through the night a gigantic assault was creeping toward the
In the north the Australians
high port, faces
grim, hearts racing after the long hours of waiting for this moment.
their southern flank
the Highlanders, then south of
left the South Africans. guns fired tracer ammunition down the dividing Hnes between each division to help guide them through the darkness and keep them from wandering over into another division's
Zealanders, then on the far
— El Alamein In front of each unit, too,
marched a navigating
in hand, counting his steps as he went, to keep his
be able to tell how far his group had advanced toward their objective and intermediate reporting and control lines. Behind them, British searchlights switched on, sending their long probing fingers into the sky, then crossing over the assigned
target area to give the advancing soldiers a further aid in guiding
them through the
Tensely, the long columns crowded forward. Directly into the German minefields they advanced, death stalking every step they took.
Rommel had laid two main minefields, or "gardens" as the Germans called them, running the full thirty-eight-mile length of the front. Over most of this distance each of the fields was only a few hundred yards deep. But in places they extended up to five miles in depth, with long irregular fingers reaching out in odd directions to confuse and harass anyone attempting to force a passage. Most of the mines were antitank mines which would not normally explode if a walking man stepped on them. But if the weight of a tank came down on them, they would erupt with at least enough force to tear off a track and disable the tank, and sometimes they caused more serious damage, although the occupants usually survived. Lighter vehicles, however, would be completely destroyed and their occupants killed. In some cases, the mines were attached to booby traps that would explode if a sapper tried to remove the mine without first examining it for such dangerous attachments. Then the booby trap, too, would have to be disarmed before removal was possible. Even more deadly were trip wires strung across the minefields at just the right height to catch on a man's foot. The wires led to grenades or similar charges that would explode, killing or disabling a number of men in the immediate vicinity. And sometimes they were attached to antitank mines or to an aerial bomb and then one little tug and the whole desert for yards around would erupt with a tremendous explosion and scores of men would be killed. There was one other deadly hazard underfoot, too, that night German "S" mines or "Bouncing Betties." They were hard enough to see in the daytime and almost impossible to pick out at night. Only three little sensitive prongs at the top of the mine extended
Tanks and Armor
up through the sand. A touch of a foot and an explosive charge shot the mine into the air about waist high where it exploded, shooting out deadly pieces of shrapnel in
But these were risks the infantry had to take. It was their job to move forward through the minefields regardless of the casualties they would suffer, then seize positions and hold them until the tanks could be brought forward. Behind the infantry came minefield reconnaissance parties. When they came to an area that aerial photographs indicated was the edge of a minefield, they marked it with a small hght facing toward the rear. Then they advanced through the minefield, guided by compasses. As they advanced, a white tape was reeled out behind them. This was to mark the center of the lane that was to be cleared. Behind the reconnaissance groups came mine-clearing teams, three teams abreast, each to clear a strip eight feet wide, or a gap with a total width of twenty-four feet. The outside men of the two outside parties marked the outer edges of the lane to be cleared. In each team, men with mine detectors came first, sweeping back and forth across the ground in front of them with the fiat, round disks of their sensitive devices. The mines found were carefully removed and stacked along each side of the gap. At first the British assault moved ahead rapidly. The Germans and Itahans were so stunned by the sudden, savage bombardment that there was temporary paralysis across their front. Then distress rockets began to soar into the air. Some of the outposts obviously had survived and now were signaling for help. Machine guns stuttered into life. A few mortar rounds began to drop on the British too, and then an occasional artillery shell. The attacking infantry, almost leaning up against each concentration line of the leapfrogging artillery barrage, smashed through any strongpoints directly in their path. But other strongpoints were bypassed and soon were stabbing the mine clearance teams and following troops with intermittent fire. Choking clouds of dust, htirled into the air by incoming shells, drifted back over the slowly unfolding drama. "Keep going! Keep going 1" was the constant shouted command. The officers were driving the infantry forward now. Their objectives, up to four miles ahead, had to be captured before daybreak or the long columns of tanks and supply trains pushing through the 164
gaps in the minefields would be easy targets for the lery the next day.
the far side of high ground,
Miteirya Ridge, and a hne passing through outcroppings in exten-
toward the northwest. The Ridge itself cut across the front of the New Zealand and South African Divisions, while the outcroppings were mainly in front of the Highlanders, with the most prominent hill called Kidney Ridge lying astride the dividing line between the Scots and AustraUans. Rommel himself was in Europe when the battle began, trying to get more supplies for his troops. His headquarters, under the command of General Stumme, was thrown into a frenzy of excitement by the sudden developments. By now, staff officers knew a major attack was under way, but they could not reach major units on the sion of
phone and were not certain where the main assault was developing. But as the long night progressed, some divisions reported in and the badly mauled German artillery began firing again. Terrible losses were reported in the north by the German 164th and Italian Trento Divisions, and there was an assault of undetermined strength developing at the southern end of the hne too. The British infantry battered its way through the stiffening resistance. The Tommies suddenly appeared out of the dust and smoke, bearing down on entrenched Germans and Itahans with bayonets fixed. In short, sharp fights, strongpoint after strongpoint was crushed and the attack moved on. Lines of prisoners began trickling back to the rear now, but the British casualties
were mounting. The incoming German
tearing holes in the advancing columns. Mortar rounds took
deep bites too, and machine-gun fire.
men went down under sudden
In front of the Scots, a massive
German counterbarrage developed
and halted the advance. But the Highlanders were ordered to charge through it anyway and did so at a fearful price. On the Australian front, the terrible trip wires and "S" mines were taking a heavy toll, but still the attack rolled on. The dead, dying, and wounded were left where they fell until collection and medical teams could pick them up. The battle was fully joined and dawn was approaching. It had turned into a brutal slugging match staged in a mammoth swirling 165
Tanks and Armor
cloud of dust and smoke against a background of shouted com-
cries for help,
screams of incoming
ful wail of the Scots' bagpipes,
— and every now and then the high-pitched mournwhich were carried
into battle with
When the sun rose the British were dug in across a front that had swept over Miteirya Ridge in the 2nd New Zealand sector but had fallen at least one thousand or more yards short of its initial objectives in other areas.
was not good. The period of maximum opportunity Germans and Italians were still shocked and reeling from the surprise of the assault was slipping away rapidly. And the period of maximum danger was approaching full daylight when a wounded but rapidly recovering enemy could concentrate The
German minefields. The plan had called
struggling forward through the
two main corridors, each involving sevmines before dawn. One corridor leading to Miteirya Ridge was completed through the New Zealand area. The 10th Armored Division was to pass through this and drive on to two other objectives. Tlie fij:st, given the code name of Pierson Bound, was an artificial control and report line lying just beyond minor geographical features west of Miteirya Ridge. The other, for
eral gaps, to be cleared of
farther to the west,
called Skinflint Report Line.
The sappers broke through
the final barrier of mines in this area an armored task force following behind was shot up when it tried to press on beyond Miteirya Ridge. The Germans had built up a line of antitank guns on high ground to the west and were able to shoot up the tanks as fast as they came shortly before sunrise but
over the Ridge. Nevertheless, two brigades of the 10th Armored were able to push through the minefield gap and deploy along the Ridge before full daylight, and the third brigade came roaring through a short
The other main
corridor through the minefields straddled the
dividing line between the Australians and Highlanders. In this area the sappers ran into savage opposition from that
had been bypassed by the
They had no
had to fight and clear the passage through the minefield at the same time. As the sun rose they were still fighting and clearing and the 1st Armored Division that was to use the corridor was jammed up and trapped in the narrow channel. Its leading tanks were still two miles short of Kidney Ridge on the skyline where the Germans were unlimbering antitank guns to fire directly into the massed British armor. General Raymond Briggs, the 1st Armored's commander, had no force to subdue these assaults, so
ordered his tanks to deploy into the minefield until they could advance again. The movement was carried out with few
So October 24 dawned v^dth the 10th Armored's tanks in a relatively satisfactory position, but with the 1st Armored's tanks terribly exposed in the open desert to German artillery and antitank gunfire
— a very dangerous
The sappers worked desperately under direct fire to force a channel through the second of the Germans' mine barriers and by 7 00 A.M. they had made it. Then to their amazement they discovered that there was a third minefield and all their efforts to relieve the immediate emergency had only advanced the tanks a few hundred :
was only one answer. General Montgomery, aware
of the extreme danger to the 1st Division armor, ordered
through regardless of cost and and take the initial objectives. Motors roaring, the tanks raced past the infantry and sappers and directly into the mines beyond, heading for the high ground ahead.
Explosions erupted on
Tanks spun around and came
to an abrupt halt, their shattered tracks slithering out behind them. Antitank gunfire streaked through their broken ranks. There was
the familiar "Crack!" of direct hits, and the sudden "whoosh" of
But some of the armor fought its way through, leaving behind a trail of burning and crazily tilted tanks with broken suspension systems. Finally the remnants of two companies rolled onto the high ground they had been fighting for and laid down a protective curtain of
The sappers kept plodding forward behind them and by mid167
Tanks and Armor
Battle of El Alamein
El Alamein afternoon had one gap completed. Another was through a short time later, and all the tanks made it up to the more favorable posi-
gap was not completed until the next day. It was none too soon. For several hours now a dust cloud had been rising behind high ground ahead, always the danger signal of tanks rallying before an attack. with the setting It came at the hour the Germans favored most sun at their backs shining directly into the eyes of the waiting tion although the third
British tankers. First there
were only a few black specks topping the
there were more. Skillfully as always, the tanks of the 15th Panzer
and Italian Littorio Divisions worked their way forward slowly, some laying down protective fire while others moved, then those that had advanced halted and firing so the others could move. They tried other familiar tactics too, trying to lure British tanks out to take on a single and seemingly unprotected German tank, so hidden antitank guns could then get a clear shot at the pursuing tank. But the British stayed where they were and battered the Ger-
mans unmercifully with
the longer-range 75's of the
mans. The Germans had to withdraw at dusk, leaving twenty-six of their tanks burning or wrecked behind them.
On the night of October 24, the forward to Pierson Bound and Skin-
British tried to force their line
but were punished so heavily in some sectors that they had to withdraw. On the night of October 25 Montgomery changed his tactics and suddenly struck north with the 9th Australians, throw-
ing the finally
Germans temporarily into a panic in that area. But they managed to seal off the salient which Montgomery forced
into their hnes.
Rommel was back
now and hurled more and more but these too suffered heavily. In two
at the front
counterattacks at the British,
days of fighting, the British counted at least seventy-five German tanks destroyed or disabled plus thirty-five or more Italian. The Germans had lost heavily in infantry too. It seemed the "crumbling" process
guns Rommel had
Montgomery was a wall
up along high ground
beyond the coming
British Skinflint Report Line. In repeated tries during the
Tanks and Armor
week the British commander was unable to crack it. But with the help of continuous air attack and accurate artillery and tank fire he did knock out many of the guns. Even more important, Montgomery forced Rommel into disThe "Desert Fox" was extremely worried about the Australian salient in the north and decided to wipe it out in one massive assault. The remaining tanks of the 15th Panzer, Italian Littorio Division, and the German 164th Light Division were ordered to strike on October 26. The British sighted the force as it was forming up and crushed it there with massed artillery fire, continuous bombing, and fighter plane assaults that swept most of Rommel's approaching Stuka divebombers out of the sky. Now the front seemed frozen. Neither British nor German could advance or force a decision on the other. But both Rommel and Montgomery had plans for ending this. Rommel brought the 21st Panzer up from the south, took the 90th Light Division out of Army reserve, and alerted the 164th, Bersaglieri, and Littorio Divisions. He informed them and the remnants of the 15th Panzer, too, to prepare for a new attack. It was to be a blow aimed at the Austrahans in the north, and at the advance forces of the 1st Armored near Kidney Ridge. While Rommel was preparing for this decisive move, Montgomery sidestepped his divisions north, took the 1st, 10th Armored, and New Zealand Divisions out of the line to regroup and reequip, and brought up the 9th Armored Brigade. Together they were to form a new striking force. His plan was, first, a new attack north by the Australians to draw as much German armor into that area as possible; then, just south of their sector, hurl a new punch straight ahead to crash through and break up the Germans' dtig-in astrous adventures with his armor.
Rommel's new blow was launched October 27 and again was crushed by very heavy aerial bombing, massed fire of British antitank guns, and continuous artillery fire. Now it was Montgomery's turn. The Austrahans, carrying out the first phase of the new plan, struck north on the night of October 28 and again on October 30. They were not able to break through to the sea as hoped, but they did draw German forces 170
— El Alamein
Montgomery wanted, and stood ground there against repeated heavy counterattacks.
into the extreme north as
Montgomery was now ready
for another big shove straight ahead through the tough antitank gun barrier. The attack began just before 1:00 a.m. on November 2. The 2nd New Zealand Division, its two weakened brigades replaced by brigades from other divisions, advanced two brigades abreast, on a narrow four-thousand-yard front. Ten minutes later, as planned, the massed artillery of the Highlanders, 1st Armored, 10th Armored, and three other artillery regiments all working under the New Zealanders' artillery control brought down their first heavy curtain of fire in front of the adto try to get
vancing infantrymen. As in the earlier initial assault of October 23, the artillery advanced its fire in one-hundred-yard jumps, closely followed by the
Tommies who then had
subdue the German forces that survived
the hail of shells.
The German came out stunned and shocked at first, hands in air, as the attack rolled forward. Then resistance stiffened and the British had to slug their way forward, capturing dug-in tanks, the
and entrenched strongpoints. But by shortly infantry had completed
after 5.00 a.m. the
was digging in almost face to face with the bristling German defensive zone of dug-in antitank guns and tanks that Rommel had built up to halt its
part of the attack and
the British pressure.
gaps were completed through the more advanced Ger-
was then set for one of the North Africa. The 9th Armored Brigade
minefields also, and the stage
its advance. Its target was the German antitank defenses beginning about a half-mile away and extending farther west for about another mile. Montgomery had been firm this time. He said
broken and he was prepared
every tank in the brigade,
necessary, to force a breakthrough.
The 1st Armored was then to roar through the opening and take up defensive positions ready to meet Rommel's counterattack.
so the 9th
ordeal, using 123 tanks organ-
ized in three regimental teams, each with
and antitank guns. 171
Tanks and Armor
As each regiment emerged from
channel through the mine-
spread out into a line of squadrons abreast. Then the men waited, engines idling, straining to peer through the darkness and field, it
Radios went silent as the time approached. Promptly at 6:15 A.M. the British artillery curtain dropped in front of them, tearing
ground in search of the deadly German gunners. The tanks began a slow advance, pushing right up behind the line of erupting shells. Germans leaped up and ran in the face of this rolling avalanche of armor. They were cut down or captured. at the
far, so good.
armored assault rumbled up and
midway through the German defenses. And then the protective cloak of darkness that had masked their advance faded and for the first time the British tankmen became fully over a low ridge about
aware of their situation. They were right in the middle of the German gun positions. The early dawn exploded into a screaming bedlam. Tanks raced back and forth overrunning the German guns. Streams of machinegun buUets crisscrossed back and forth in crazy patterns, marked by their glowing tracers. The tank cannons blasted away at the Germans and those Germans who could wheeled their guns around and blasted away in return. The German antitank men did not really have a chance. The great iron horses of the British rode them down, scattering, killing, and tearing apart the Germans and their emplacements. As the dawn brightened further, big German 88's opened up in the distance. Almost instantly a half-dozen tanks burst into flames. There was a thunder of motors off to the left, too, and over a rise surged
tanks, counterattacking in force.
In a few minutes the leading British squadrons were almost
wiped out in the deadly crossfire of the 88's and the panzers. The survivors tried to sHp back toward their lines, most of them wounded and on foot. More and more of the 9th's tank formations charged into the melee to become almost instantly so many blazing metal bonfires from which men, like black ants, crawled out and tumbled to the ground, screaming and rolling in the sand, trying to put out their burning clothing. 172
Some of the tanks got through the blazing crossfire and still stumbled on bravely toward the deeper German gun defenses. Then more German tanks came roaring ceeded
from the right and prorake the survivors of the British squadrons with heavy in
the gallant survivors of the 9th fought on,
hght of the rising
sun flooded the scene
and as the
not only revealed the
wreckage narrow front of the attack. The British armor had gouged a deep and bleeding hole in the antitank defense but had not broken through. Only nineteen British tanks stumbled back out of that inferno; only 230 of the brigade's 400 officers and men survived. Very bitterly they fell back into the advancing ranks of the British 1st Armored Division. Now, moving up through the smoke, dust, and confusion of the battle, the 1st groped cautiously for the enemy and for the best ground on which to meet him. It soon became obvious that the German defenses had not been broken. Fire was pouring into the exposed British position from the north, south, and west. To Brigadier General A. F. Fisher, commander of the Ist's 2nd Armored Brigade, it was also evident that there was no hope of forcing a breakthrough at this time, and placing his tanks beyond the point of penetration, as the original plan had called for. Even those portions of the Ridge, called the Rahman Tract, that the 9th Armored Brigade had overrun could not be held in the face terrible
massacre of the
9th's formations, but also the
positions across the
of a rapidly approaching
So Fisher wisely,
though under great pressure from his superiors to press forward, searched out the best available ground just short of the Rahman Tract, and deployed his three regiments across
sion's armored infantry and antitank gun units poured into the line and built up defenses along the right shoulder of the night's penetration, awaiting the blow that had already been signaled by an approaching dust cloud to the northwest. Completing the ring of armor around the newly captured ground, the 8th Armored Brigade of the 10th Armored Division moved up left half of the sahent. It built up a line of tanks, antitank guns, and infantry facing west and curving around along the
Tanks and Armor
There, under the blasting heat of the desert sun, the two armies
More than one hundred German and Italian tanks were hurled repeatedly at the British salient. They stormed in from the northwest and west and were beaten back with heavy losses. They came in from the southwest and had to fall back, leaving the battlecollided.
Httered with blazing vehicles.
Again and again Rommel pounded at the British position. Stukas screamed down on the British armor but were pounced upon by
The artillery of both sides pushed up and hurled massive loads of steel at every concentration that could be spotted. British bombers shook the floor of the desert with the huge bombs they rained down on the German and Italian tanks. Once German armor crashed through the British Infantry fine in the north but was quickly forced back. Throughout the day the battle raged, fought in the usual cloud of dust, smoke, heat, and confusion, and then it was over. The Italians and Germans withdrew, leaving the wreckage of more of British fighters.
close to the front
than eighty of their tanks behind. Both armies were now nearing exhaustion. The battle of El Alamein had been fought without letup for ten days and stiU there was no sign of a final break in the German and Italian defenses. Men of both armies lay in their shallow foxholes under constant fire, tortured by flies, weakened by the searing heat of the day and the biting cold of the night, forced to survive on hard field rations and short supplies of water.
Rommel's position was desperate and he was already planning Fuka if the British weakened his forces further. Montgomery, although still expressing great confidence in achieving victory soon, had been stopped despite his overwhelming superiority in the air and on the ground. Still, he tried again. After beating off the aU-day German and Itahan attack on November 2, he hurled an infantry brigade at the German gunline again that night. The attack failed with costly losses. The next day armored car units were launched to the southwest in an effort to pierce and get behind the gunline, but this too failed. An armored attack also was stopped by 88's and the newly arrived Ariete Division, now up from the south. That night Montgomery tried again. Three infantry brigades were lined up abreast along the southwestern and southern side of a sixty-mile retreat back to
the British penetration two from the 51st Highlanders on the north and center, and the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade on the south. They were ordered to attack to the southwest and seize the high
ground of the
Tract south of the area that had been aimed
The Gordon Highlander Brigade in the center, supported by jumped off at 5:45 p.m. in the gathering dusk of November 3 and was halted with severe losses after only a short gain. The Indians struck at 1:30 a.m. on November 4 and smashed tanks,
through to their objective in a swift and brilliant attack overrunning every German position in their path. The 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders attacked at 6:15 a.m. and also broke through quickly to their objective. A short time later, the Gordon Highlander Brigade resumed its attack and joined the other two brigades astride the
news of the sudden break in the German defenses raced across the front. The 2nd New Zealand Division, led by the 9th and 4th Armored Brigades, thundered down on the gap. Through the hole they plunged in a giant deluge of racing tanks, self-propelled and towed guns, trucks crammed with infantry, and a full array of artillery. Five divisions pounded down through the narrow opening that morning three of them armored, plus the New Zealand and Scottish Highland Infantry Divisions with their
attached armored units.
The armor-tipped avalanche wheeled north and ran into a deup by Rommel, consisting mainly of the Italian Ariete Armored Division, Italian motorized infantry, and a dangerous array of antitank guns plus some artillery. The British 7th Armored Division attacked. Its more powerful fensive line thrown
guns, and the constant pounding of the British
the Italians in their poorly armored tanks.
then broke with the remnants of the Italians streaming westward; then it disappeared altogether as the British tide washed to dissolve,
While the 7th was battering down 1st
Itahan barrier, the British the German Afrika
was hammering back
Korps and 90th Light Division, step by step, in a frontal assault to the north. Finally the front bulged and broke and another stream of British armor burst into the German rear.
— Tanks and Armor
Alamein was over and the remnants of the Ger-
battle of El
away to the west in full reup by the thousands as British remaining German and ItaUan
Italian desert armies raced
foot soldiers were rounded
columns streaked westward, but the armored and motorized slipped by repeated British efforts to cut them off. Heavy rain began falling the night of November 6 and continued through the next day, slowing down the pursuing columns. They were never able to cut the coastal highway ahead of any significant number of the German and mobile troops
More than half of wounded in the twelve days of fighting. Some 300 German and Italian tanks had been destroyed or totally disabled and more than 1,000 guns captured But
suffered a terrible defeat.
the British side, almost 16,000
about 4,500 of them
One hundred and fifty British tanks and 350 more were knocked out in the
more bloody chapters
be written before the
North Africa would be completed. But the fate of the German and Italian armies was finally sealed a few days after the battle of El Alamein was won. While Rommel fled to the west with those troops he was able to save, a giant armada of ships approached North Africa from both the United States and Britain. On November 8 they landed near Casablanca in French Morocco, and Or an and Algiers in Algeria. The Germans and Italians were trapped between two AUied armies bearing down on them from both the west and east. Hitler now poured men and suppUes into North Africa that would delay the final defeat for many months reinforcements that would have assured success for Rommel if they had been provided earUer but now there was no way to avoid the inevitable verdict. Rommel fought on during these months and displayed on numerous occasions his brilliant talents in handhng the war of movement that armor had made possible. One of these occasions was a serious defeat inflicted upon green and overextended American infantry and armored forces at Faid and Kasserine Pass. But eventually he was recalled to Germany to prepare to fight other story of the struggle for
El Alamein battles, while the last of the Afrika
Korps was herded into a tiny
corner of Tunisia and forced to surrender on
great classical armored battles of North Africa were over.
Rommel had been
conquered, but the history of that period will
always bear his imprint. Perhaps Sir Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, summed up the impact Rommel had had on the British people, when he said in the House of Commons during the height of the African fighting: "We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us, and
say across the havoc of war, a great general."
THE R USSIAN MAILED FIST
Stalingrad The day broke
and dripping with freezing
Lieutenant Ivan Olchenko pulled his heavy, fur-lined jacket in tighter aro«4d his body, trying to shut out the cold. It was no use.
He was miserable. From where he crouched with see part of the waiting
army spread out on
on a low
the continuous blanket
that stretched across the flat treeless steppe of southern
Russia. It was growing lighter and Lieutenant Olchenko could make out thousands of other clusters of men hke his. At this distance they looked like so many ants dotting the unending expanse of white.
a pair of binoculars against his eyes, adjusting the focus to get a better look. An image leaped out at him. A big, bearded officer was standing beside a tank, talking to the man in the turret. The officer finished the conversation, then let his eye run down over the sloping lines of the tank. He patted it
affectionately with a gloved
hand before moving
his binoculars across the front. Soldiers, lots of self-
propelled guns, and
more and more
of the tanks
same low outline, seeming to lean forward into a small turret with a long cannon protruding from the other side. "T-34's," Ivan grunted to himself. "Lots of them this time. Good." A sudden shattering roar from the Russian artillery behind brought him out of his daydreaming. The "swoosh! swoosh! swoosh! swoosh!" of the big Russian the
rocket mortars, taking off in volleys of flashing fire, followed the first salvo from the field guns, both bringing a shower of death raining down on the enemy, waiting somewhere in the foggy void
Tanks and Armor
There was a long pause, then the first muffled "crump! crump!" came floating back through the frozen air. It was 6 00 A.M., November 19, 1942. The long-awaited Russian attack to drive of impact the
For two hours the artillery battered the unseen targets ahead, then the entire army began to stir. Ivan stood up. He motioned
arms to restore circulation. He could hear the tank motors starting up in the distance too. Little clouds of first black, then white smoke belched from their exhausts as the motors caught and sputtered before settling down off their boots,
to a steady
Slowly the army sorted
out into organized formations.
men and machines began to edge forward platoon into motion. The men walked slowly,
the whole tide of
and Ivan waved the
methodically forward. Far ahead the first rounds of artillery counterfire exploded among the advancing infantry. Some men went
down. The others kept going. There were no German planes in sight. Too much fog. But a few Russian fighter-bombers did streak by overhead, ready to tear open the
holes in the
for the tanks to break through.
began firing, and there was a sudden rattle of small-arms fire building up across the front. The forward movement stopped. The men spread out and waited as the sound of battle grew in intensity. Finally the advance began again, at first slowly, then the whole column began to pick up speed, then more speed. Suddenly it was as if a dam broke. The enemy's defenses collapsed and the whole avalanche of tanks, guns, men, artillery, and airplanes came storming down on his broken line, washed over defensive works and kept going. Far to the east another similar attack burst out of a Russian bridgehead and advanced with equally shattering force. In both cases the twin attacks struck Romanian divisions fighting on the flanks of the German Sixth Army which had been trying for months to capture Stalingrad, a major industrial and transportation center on the Volga River in southern Russia. distant line of advance tanks
The Russians sent the Romanians fleeing in panic, and in five days of bruising, battering assault brought their two attacking forces together in an iron ring around the city, encircHng twentytwo German divisions. 182
The iron ring tightened. The Germans could not escape. An attempt by the 4th Panzer Army to break through from the outside and reestabhsh contact with the surrounded troops failed. The fighting went on and on while the strength of the once mighty Sixth Army slowly ebbed away. Hundreds of its men were killed daily, their bodies left where they fell, frozen in the snowcovered ruins of the city. Those who survived were frostbitten, halfstarved, and exhausted. Finally, on January 31, 1943, the Soviet government announced the surrender of the German Sixth Army, claimed the annihilation of the 4th Panzer Army, and the capture of 90,000 German pris183
— Tanks and Armor
commander, Field Marshal Friedrich von It was a great and epic victory, and like North Africa, just three months before, a turning
oners, including their
Paulus, and fifteen generals.
El Alamein in
point in the war.
There were many, grad, but the
cant factor was that
defeat at Stalin-
that at least one signifi-
deadly Russian tank they had been
many months — the T-34 — and
fighting for so
to a certain extent
heavy tank that was almost equally as good. The T-34 was one of the great surprises to the Germans in World War II. It was low and swift. Its powerful 76.2-millimeter highvelocity gun carried a devastating wallop. And its 500-horsepower, water-cooled deisel engine and broad tracks gave it the ability to race across either firm or soft ground that would stop German tanks.
armor of 45-millimeter
— not quite
2 inches thick was more effective than that of more heavily armored tanks because it sloped back at a steep angle. The sides and turret also were angled sharply back in the same plane from bottom to top and the vulnerable engine compartment was boxed in with heavy steel. The Germans were amazed at the way their tank and antitank shells
for those of the 88-millimeter antiaircraft
ricocheted off the slanted walls of this bounding gazelle of the
armored world. And they were equally stunned by its ability to turn on sudden bursts of speed. Tanks weighing thirty-two tons were just not supposed to be able to move that fast. Moreover, the accomphshment of the Russians in building what was probably the best-designed tank of World War II was particularly remarkable in view of their late start in the field of tank design and development. Their interest in armored vehicles, however, does go back to the turn of the century. In 1900 the Imperial Artillery Committee of Russia, then ruled by the Czar, constructed an armored car powered by a steam engine. It also ordered the purchase of a small number of armored cars from a French firm in 1902. Nothing much came of these ventures, but Russia continued to show interest in developing a properly protected vehicle capable of carrying mounted machine guns into battle. 184
Again, early in World War I, Russian military leaders experimented with a large wheeled vehicle for this purpose and for a time worked on a smaller one with tracks. But both were abandoned in favor of building armored cars on imported motor vehicle chassis.
These armored cars were used in limited ways during the war, it was not until after the Russians had signed a truce with Germany in December, 1917, and the nation was swept by revolution, that the first tanks were brought into the country. They were British Mark V's and French Renault F.T.'s sent in to help the White Russian Armies fighting the Communist forces which evenbut
control of the nation.
The new Communist
Hshed was called the Union of Soviet SociaHst Republics, or more
commonly the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union's next contact with modern armored development was at the secret experimental tank base it allowed the German Weimar Republic to set up at Kazan on the Volga River in Russia during the 1920's. However, two tanks the Russians purchased in 1931 from an American inventor named J. Walter
were probably an equally important influence. Christie's advanced ideas were almost entirely ignored in his own country, but not in Russia. From him the Soviets obtained what has come to be called the Christie suspension system on which the weight of the tank rides, plus his advanced engineering for dehvering power from the motor to the tracks, and his even more important concept of mounting powerful engines in tanks to give them speed and Christie
To these basic ideas the Russians gradually added four more: ( 1 ) making the tank low so it would present the smallest possible target; (2) tapering the hull sharply so antitank and tank shells would glance off; (3) mounting much larger cahber cannon in the turret than any tanks the Western powers were then using; and
(4) providing their tanks with broad tracks so they could operate across the often soft, marshy ground of the Russian countryside.
Working with these
ideas, the Russian designers turned out
a series of tanks that eventually included the very useful 43-ton
heavy tank, which was coming into use when World War II began, and the very remarkable 32-ton T-34 medium tank which did not
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare attacked Russia, Unfortunately for the Russians, their ideas of
use these tanks were not nearly as advanced as their tank
Like so they
French, and Americans,
thought of tanks only as a weapon to accompany and that is, to fight machine guns or
support the infantry in battle as a
of cavalry for use in all-tank formations on
flanks or in wide swinging forays deep in his rear. roles
were often quite
effective in a limited
way, but they failed
take advantage of the full tremendous striking power of the tank,
which could be achieved only by making it the central weapon in a balanced team of supporting arms. Then it could become a force capable of winning a battle, not just a form of harassing the enemy. As a consequence of the infantry-cavalry concepts, nearly all Russian tanks were organized in brigades when World War II began, a formation suited to the two roles planned. These brigades consisted usually of three battalions of tanks, to which were added small detachments of infantry and some other arms in a loose organization. It was not until after the Germans put on their spectacular performance with panzer divisions in the September, 1939, attack on Poland, and the 1940 defeat of France, that the Russians realized they had made a mistake. Very hastily then they began trying to form armored divisions. But the hour was late and the war was
about to burst upon them.
the night of June 21-22, 1941, three
to their final
German army groups
jump-off positions along the frontier with
the Soviet Union. At 3:15 a.m. the
screamed by overhead and crashed onto their targets behind Russian lines. At 3:40 a.m. the first wave of German dive-bombers swept down to release their paralyzing loads of explosives on Russian strongpoints. At 4:15 a.m. the first German panzer divisions plunged forward and the greatest battle in mihtary history was under way. Nazi Germany, having conquered France and driven Britain from the European mainland, had without warning treacherously turned on the Soviet Union, the nation with which it had signed a nonaggression pact just twenty-two months before. The German General Staff was completely confident that the 1
3,200,000 men it had mobilized for the gigantic campaign would crush the Russian giant swiftly, leaving Germany supreme over all
Europe and in possession of
major industrial and com-
The Germans had 121 motorized
them armored and 12 which France, they had achieved a by cutting in half the number of
plus three air fleets totaling 3,000 aircraft with
do the job. After the conquest of sudden increase in armored divisions of tanks assigned to each division, thus increasing sharply the ratio of infantry and other arms to tanks. They now had 3,200 tanks almost all Panzer Ill's and IV's with which to lead the expected to
on Russia. was undoubtedly the most powerful army ever assembled in
victorious assault It
the Baltic Sea in the north almost to the Black
Sea in the south,
extended more than twelve hundred miles
across the face of Europe.
The plan of conquest was simple on paper at least. Army Group North, commanded by Field Marshal Wilhelm von Leeb, was to advance from East Prussia, destroy the Russian armies in the Baltic, and capture Leningrad. Army Group Center, commanded by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, was to wipe out the strong Russian forces deployed between the border and Smolensk, then be ready to strike either north, south, or drive straight ahead to capture Moscow. Army Group South, under Field Marshal Karl Rudolph Gerd von Rundstedt, was to overwhelm Russian forces in Galicia and the western Ukraine, then capture Kiev or Kharkov. AU this, and the follow-up moves needed to bring Russia to its knees, were to be accomplished in a lightning campaign of eight to ten weeks. The war was supposed to end with the German armies standing on a line, well beyond Moscow, extending from Archangel in the north to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea in the south.
appeared that the German calculations would be corarmy groups drove forward, rolhng up tremendous gains. The Russian forces in the border areas, caught completely by surprise, were thrown into terrible confusion. Swarms of German planes destroyed Russian ammunition and fuel dumps and pounded Russian airfields. By noon they were credited with wiping out twelve hundred Russian planes, most of them on the ground. This virtually ehminated the Soviet Air Force. At
rect. All three
Tanks and Armor
was almost equally bad on the ground. The Ruswhich was soon to prove superior to the Germans', was temporarily held back while the Russians tried unsuccessfully to find some means to halt the attack through German diplomats in Moscow. The tanks the Russians had immediately available, too, were almost entirely obsolete models, undergunned and thin-skinned BT-5's, BT-7's, and T-26's, and were easily destroyed as they were thrown piecemeal into the fighting. And the Russian infantry, although it fought bravely, was short of weapons and virtually paralyzed by the German bombing which destroyed communications. In addition, units received contradictory orders and confusion situation
was perhaps even
greater confusion. Because communications in some areas, the could not get a clear picture of what was
of the almost complete loss of
Russian High Command happening. On June 23 the Russians tried to counterattack but their forces were quickly swept aside by the onrushing German panzers. On June 28 the racing tanks reached the city of Minsk and surrounded eleven divisions. And by July 3, Colonel-General Heinz Guderian's Panzer Group 2, one of two panzer groups under von Bock in the central sector, had crossed the Beresina River at Borisov and was preparing to push on. It was at that moment that a frightening new element was introduced into the battle. "Russian armor approaching!"
from German reconthe 18th Panzer Division. It was repeated
in over the radio, relayed
naissance aircraft to
with more detail: "Russian armor approaching! Heavy tanks! At least one hundred of them!"
The panzers wheeled around and braced for the assault. The Germans had heard disquieting reports of a new Russian tank that had shot up some German units in the south. Maybe this was it. The mass of Russian armor came storming down on the German flank. The Germans hurled a wall of antitank fire into their ranks.
of the Russian tanks burst into flames, just as they always
But there were some huge new tanks, mixed in with i88
Stalingrad the light ones, that just kept lumbering forward unaffected by the
a few lucky shots tore out the tracks of one, and this weakness became known to the German gunners. One other group of smaller and swifter Russian tanks was not so easily stopped. This rampaging band raked the German armor with fire and left many Panzer Ill's and IV's burning fiercely before fire until
The Germans were astounded. Their guns had had almost no effect
but very bold armored group.
mean? This was the
recorded encounter with the T-34, which was
now becoming available in the field. And the heavy tank involved was the KV,
Germans had met
earlier skirmishes. It
and was armed with the same 76.2made it even more difficult to knock out, but it did not have the speed and maneuverability of the T-34. Both were powered by the same 12-cylinder water-cooled diesel engine, which on the T-34 developed 500 horsepower and on the KV was "souped up" to 550 or 600 horsepower. But this difference in power did not overcome the difference in the T-34's weight and it was never as effective a weapon as its hghter armored teamthe T-34, weighing 43 tons,
3-inch frontal armor
mate. Later versions of the
at this time
were brought into the fighting a short time later. a huge 60-tonner armed with a 152-millimeter howitzer, which was a shorter type of cannon especially designed for lobbing shells up over terrain obstacles and down on a given target. This tank was too unwieldy to be of much use, but the original KV, rearmed with an 85-millimeter high-velocity gun in the winter of 1942-3, did
truly formidable foe.
But despite increasing troubles with the Russian armor, the German juggernaut rolled on. Great masses of Russian soldiers were overrun and herded into prisoner pens by the racing panzer columns as they left a trail of shattered and burning Russian armor in their wake. By July 13 the 17th Panzer Division was across the Dnieper River and announced it had already destroyed 502 Rusa measure of the Germans' superior leadership, organisian tanks zation, and handhng of their armor in battle. One aspect of this
Tanks and Armor
superiority was that the German tanks could operate their main cannon three times faster than the Russians could in the T-34 that
they could get off three shots to the T-34's one. For the T-34, for
good points, did have a small turret which made it necessary for only one man of the four-man crew to perform the dual role of both loading and firing the main gun. all its
seemed that the Germans had
big KV's appeared in large numbers, or bands of those savage Httle
tornadoes, the T-34's, were hurled at them.
But there were other disturbing elements creeping into the battle, For one, where were all the Russian tanks coming from? German intelligence had credited the Soviets with having not more than ten thousand when the war started, but already the great number of identified brigades indicated that there were probably many thousands more than the Germans had believed possible. Another thing, too. The Russians were being surrounded and their armies systematically cut to pieces, but there was no sign of too.
collapse. Instead, the fighting
were mounting. And more and more of the German tanks were breaking down, their motors clogged by the swirling, choking dust of the poor Russian roads. These same congested, rutted roads were also holding up supply columns trying to pump new equipment into the swiftly advancing German armies. However, such problems were only tiny storm clouds far away on the horizon at this stage of the Russian fighting and were completely blotted out by the brilliance of the German successes. Each of the three army groups was driving rapidly toward its major objective: Leningrad in the north, Smolensk and perhaps Moscow in the center, and Kiev or Kharkov in the south. At first the German strategists had talked of making the main effort toward Leningrad, and if necessary wheeling some of the central army forces toward the north to help surround the city and clear the Baltic Sea Coast. This plan was dropped. Guderian, on the other hand, urged that the main attack be directed at Moscow. It was the nation's main rail, road, and communications center, he argued. Capturing it would make it quite difficult for the Russians to shift troops from north to south. It was also a psychological and political symbol. Its fall might break the Russian peoples will to resist. But Hitler had other ideas. He selected the grain-rich Ukraine casualties
area and the Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea, both in the
most important immediate targets and named Kiev major city to be taken. To accomplish this, Guderian swung down from the north with his panzers while the Southern German Army Group attacked the city frontally. On September 26 the Russians left in Kiev surrendered. A staggering 665,000 men were taken prisoner. Now Hitler suddenly changed his mind and ordered the attack toward Moscow resumed, although precious weeks had been lost and fall was in the air. Von Bock faced a much more difficult situation now in trying to carry out this order than he had before Guderian's tanks had been turned south. Smolensk had fallen in July but the Russians had thrown up an effective hne twenty-five miles to the east, running through Yartsevo, Yelnia, and Desna. It had held for two months. The Russians were much more aggressive, too, and quickly let von Bock know it. As Guderian wheeled his armor around for the new offensive, Russian heavy tanks appeared off to the left and ripped through an infantry regiment protecting the flank. The KV's left the ground Uttered with bodies and captured all the regimental vehicles before they could be driven off. It was an ominous reminder that more and more of the better Russian tanks were becoming available for combat. But Guderian, fully aware of this threat, had great confidence in his panzers and hurled them against the Russian defenses. He quickly forced a breakthrough and the race for Moscow was on. The 24th Panzer Corps forged ahead, reaching the area northeast of Orel on October 1 1 when suddenly a large number of T-34's descended on the Germans, battering them with heavy fire. The ussault continued and the panzers radioed for help. Efforts to reach the group under attack were held up by the muddy terrain, and the T-34's bored in, inflicting heavy casualties. This was the first time the T-34's had been used en masse and it left a lasting impression in the Germans' minds. They were fully convinced now that this south, as the as the next
was a far better tank than anything they had. The 50-millimeter gun of the Panzer III was virtually useless against it, so was the infantry's 37-millimeter antitank gun,
of the Panzer IV
and the short 75-miUimeter
equally ineffective except at very close
range. About the only vulnerable spot the the T-34
Germans could find on it was very
above the engine in the back, and igi
Tanks and Armor difficult to
into a position
where they could
get a shot
The Germans suddenly realized that for the first time since the war began, they might no longer have tank superiority. The increasing punishment being inflicted by the T-34's was having a serious effect on German morale, too. Guderian was so concerned, he recommended that a commission of German tank designers and builders be brought to the front immediately to examine some of the captured and wrecked T-34's and to talk to the men who had fought against them. He wanted a new German tank designed that would be strong enough to stand up to it. The commission was sent and the German answer eventually was the first of its deadly panther tanks, which were in part a copy of the T-34. The heavier 60-ton-and-up Tiger series was also developed in answer to the heavier Russian tanks. Now even more ominous signs of approaching
peared elsewhere too. Early snows began to fall in the north and by mid-October were slowing progress of the armies fighting toward Leningrad. The German troops, still dressed in summer denims, shivered in the increasingly severe weather and wondered when the winter clothing they had been promised would begin to arrive.
slow progress and by early November had partly encircled the city before they were forced to halt both by the fierce resistance of the
Russians and the increasingly deadly grip of winter. In the south, von Rundstedt's armies lurched forward over soft, swampy ground and overran the major city of Kharkov while other forces captured 100,000 prisoners in battles near the Sea of Azov. But after that, mud, and Russian resistance, brought the war of
there almost to a halt.
Moscow was pushing forwas making progress. The Russians, constantly pouring new men into the fighting, had lost much of their fear of the panzers. They fought back with grenades and Molotov cocktails against the tanks and were surprisingly In the central sector, the assault on
fanatical resistance but
effective at times.
bottle filled with a highly inflam-
mable mixture of phosphorus and gasoline or other fuel. Thrown against a tank, the bottle would break and the contents burst into 192
flames as soon as they struck the open air, setting the tank on fire and destroying it. Later, both Russian civilians and soldiers sim-
with gasoline and lighting an
this was hurled against a tank the flaming wick ignited the gasoline spilled from the broken bottle and set the tank on fire. But despite such tactics, the German advance on Moscow conoily
rag stuffed into the neck.
were increasing signs of panic. There on deEven some government officials fled in cars. In all,
tinued. Inside the city there
were stampedes parting trains.
at railroad stations as people fought to get
about half the population left. On October 16 there appeared to be a German breakthrough and the panic reached its climax with heavy fighting under way little more than fifty miles from the city. But two days later the crisis
and some of the embarrassed officials reThe Russians were holding on a 600-mile line
turned to the
extending from Kalinin in the north to Tula in the south. Moscow, like Leningrad, took on the appearance of a city under siege. Tank obstacles were erected in the streets. Barrage balloons
domed buildings, holding up cables that swarms of German planes to come And through its darkened streets at night
bobbed in the
difficult for the
in close over the city.
the T-34's rolled from the still-operating factories toward the front fines.
snowfall of the year in the central sector had showered
Guderian's panzers on October 6 and 7 and
fury of the Russian winter struck on
clad troops were almost paralyzed as the temperature dropped to
8 below zero Fahrenheit, and continued to drop.
Germans' problems, fresh, well-clothed Russian divisions from Siberia began to arrive on the central front. They were the toughest of troops, neither giving nor seeking any mercy. They attacked constantly, engaging the weary German forces in hand-to-hand combat. But von Bock reorganized his forces and on November 17 launched what he expected to be his last offensive to capture Moscow. The Russian line sagged. North of the city the Germans broke through to Dimitrov. Near the center of the line they reached the high-water mark of their attack a railway station at Lobnya, to the
Tanks and Armor
Moscow and south of Moscow the panzers bypassed Tula and moved north as far as Kashira. But winter and short supplies clamped a freezing vise on the German armies and they could advance no farther. There was ten miles from the outskirts of
no antifreeze for vehicles with radiators. This meant that the radiators had to be drained when they were not in operation or the water would expand and crack the engine heads. Fuel was freezing too. Fires had to be built under motors to get them started and guns would not operate until thawed out. Their sights clouded up, and tanks spun around crazily on expanses of icy ground. little
There, in the grip of the terrible winter, the two armies fought until the
On December Soviet forces at
6 General Georgi K. Zhukov,
in charge of the
Germans in was made almost rear of the Germans
his armies against the
a massive counteroffensive. Spectacular progress
everywhere at first. The T-34's crashed into the and in the Tula area left the whole countryside Uttered with aban-
doned German guns, trucks, and tanks. Gains of at least twenty
miles were rolled up within ten
days and up to two hundred miles northwest of the city, later, in the continuing fighting. The Germans were shoved back, their cam-
was furious and determined to launch another great ofwin the victory that had been so close. But he did not
get a chance to do so until the follovmig year.
Spring crept slowly across the frozen steppes of Russia and again the
armies, rested and reequipped, were ready to return to
the attack. This time Hitler
had chosen the Caucasus, an area deep
in the south of Russia, as the prime goal.
The Caucasus hes between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. To reach it the Germans would have to fight their way to the key city of Rostov, at the
tip of the
Sea of Azov, turn the foothills along
and head south down through the Caucasian
the eastern coast of the Black Sea. If
they could penetrate and hold this area they would gain one
of the great prizes of the war.
The Caucasus was
desperately needed by the Russians to keep their armies going, and equally desired by the
Stalingrad Besides, with their armies driving south through this area, the
Germans would be in a position to meet the forces of General Erwin Rommel coming up from North Africa after he had overrun the British at Suez. With this juncture Germany would have control not only of the Caucasus
of the oil in the Middle
East upon which the British depended for petroleum suppHes to
keep their army and navy moving.
The Russians, who had teetered on the brink of total defeat in December of 1941, had struggled desperately through the winter to prepare themselves for the new German onslaught they knew would come in the spring. Their situation was still grave. Almost a third of the Russian populace had been overrun by Hitler's armies. The grain-growing Ukraine was gone. So were industrial areas in the western part of the nation. Entire Russian armies had been wiped out, and more than seventeen thousand tanks destroyed, most of them early models which unlike the T-34 and KV were inferior to the German armor. But the Russians had performed miracles too. More than fifteen hundred factories lying in the path of the advancing German armies had been dismantled and shipped east to the Volga, the Ural Mountains, Siberia, and Central Asia where they were reassembled and put back into production. Some that were moved in August were operating again by late December. Also, hundreds of new T-34's had been rushed into the battle areas to join the new armies the Soviets seemed to have virtually lifted out of the ground during the winter. And, since the Russians at this stage had given up efforts to organize armored divisions, these new tanks were fed into the armored brigades which were now being used and which Soviet commanders were better able to handle.
The Russians frequently linked these brigades usually three of them together in tank corps to which they added a motorized rifle
brigade, a reconnaissance battalion, motorcycle infantry battalion,
one or two heavy-tank battalions, some assault guns, and two regiments of antitank guns. Battalions of antiaircraft guns, mortars, and rocket launchers also bolstered such forces, providing a 300tank formation that was roughly equivalent to a western armored division in strength
not in coordinated striking power.
had developed mechanized brigades 195
Tanks and Armor the ratio of tanks
and infantry was reversed from those in tank
made them a mobile tank-supported infantry unit which could be used much hke the German Panzer Grenadier divisions in the wake of an armored assault. These, too, were grouped
major fighting was about to begin in 1942, the Russians had these basic armored formations: independent tank brigades, tank corps, mechanized brigades, and mechanized corps, and independent heavy-tank and assault gun regiments. The latter were effective either as a form of mobile artillery or in an antitank So, as the
The Russians expected the Germans to renew their drive on Moscow and were caught by surprise when they struck instead on June 28 between Kursk and Kharkov on the southern front. The Germans forced a quick breakthrough. On the southern edge of the attack the Seventeenth the
River, captured Rostov
raced ahead to
and 200,000 prisoners there on
July 23, and wheeled south into the Caucasus.
Immediately to their north, the German Sixth Army, under General von Paulus, drove straight ahead, protecting the open flank of the Caucasus invasion force. The Sixth helped clean out the Soviet forces in a huge bend in the Don River in that area, then was ordered to cross the Don and drive on Stahngrad, an industrial
and transporation center on the Volga River, forty-five miles to the east. Once Stahngrad, now called Volgograd, was in German hands, the Soviet forces fighting in the Caucasus would be virtually cut off. They could only be supplied through ports on the Caspian Sea. The Sixth Army drove forward on a narrow front. To its immediate north the 14th Panzer Corps and 3rd Motorized Division moved up to provide flank protection. And north of them the
Romanian Third Army edged forward. South of Stalingrad the Romanian Fourth Army closed up to protect that flank. On August 23, German units broke through and raced on to the Volga River on a five-mile front north of the city. At the same time six hundred bombers swooped down in relays and left Stalingrad shattered and in flames.
estimated forty thousand civihans were
The German commander, General
Marshal) Friedrich von Paulus, hurled his divisions
at the city
killed in the attack.
proper, stretching for thirty miles along the Volga.
on September 14 smashed into the center of the business district with terrible casualties on both sides. The Russians fought savagely, turning every house into a fortress that had to be captured. They hurled Molotov cocktails down on any German tank brave enough to venture into the streets. And after every renewed German push they counterattacked and took back part of what they had lost. Russian artillery and rocket mortars were stationed in massive strength on the far side of the Volga and rained constant death down on anything that moved within the German lines. But slowly the Germans gained ground and late in September broke through to the Central Pier area on the Volga in the northern industrial half of all-out
At night the Russians poured more and more men across the Volga under intensive German artillery fire. Usually less than half of those who started out would make it to a firing position in the rubble of the shattered city where they could help in the street fighting the next day. Those who did survive this dash into the inferno passed hundreds of wounded Russians, crawling on hands and knees toward the river, hoping to be picked up on the return trip of the barges that brought in the reinforcements.
assault by five
on November 12 drove
the Russians back to within one hundred yards of the river in
places, but there the Russian line held.
savage fighting was under way within the ruins of
Stalingrad, the Russians were trying desperately to relieve the pres-
sure by attacking north of the
held high ground
overlooking positions of the 14th Panzer Corps and the 3rd MotorSince early in September they had been hurling hundreds of tanks and massed infantry at the panzers in attack
Although the attacks were beaten off, they were draining away the German strength. V^hen the T-34's were not tearing up German positions, the constant battering of the Russian artillery was. The German losses were increasing and reinforcements coming in were not enough to make up the difference. More and more of them were very young and poorly trained. Late in October these attacks on the 14th Panzer Corp subsided.
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare this could mean only one thing. The Russians were regrouping and would soon strike again. But where? The answer came charging out of the fog, sleet, and freezing rain of November 19 as Lieutenant Ivan Olchenko and his platoon, and thousands of other Russians hke them, were hurled against the flanks of the Sixth Army's position. General Vatutin commanded the Russian force on the far left German flank, and General Rokossovsky commanded another force fighting on his left. Their massed tanks, infantry, and thundering
The German knew
Army, fighting on the left of the battered 14th Panzer Corps. Up from the other flank came a similar Russian force commanded by General Yeremenko after overrunning the Romanian Fourth Army. The iron ring of this giant enveloping movement snapped shut at the city of Kalach, south and west of Stalingrad. There was no escape.
Inside Stalingrad dying.
just the Sixth
German Army was
slow death had begun for the entire structure of Nazi
Germany's armed forces, once the mightiest and most brutal
ing machine in the world.
In a sense, Nazi Germany itself was dying. It would take two and a half more years for Hitler's Third Reich to expire, but a long downhill slide into oblivion had begun for Germany, just as it had
Germans trapped at Stalingrad. They were told that help was on the way. That the 4th Panzer Army would break through and open up the supply routes soon. But it didn't. It couldn't. The T-34's and the Russian artillery stopped it, and destroyed it. Now the Russians were closing in. The first snows of 1942 came and laid a white cover over the city, its broken buildings, and Uttered streets. Only one airport was left in German hands now, bringing in a trickle of supplies for the half-starved men.
for the hollow-eyed exhausted
of the last flights out, an airplane carried the final letters
men who felt they were doomed to die soon, if not in the final days before the inevitable surrender, probably in some Russian prison camp where there would be httle or no hope
written by these
The men wrote
words of 198
their fears, their regrets
Stalingrad of how the most ardent of Nazis died miserably, especially the former members of the Hitler Youth organization, calhng for their mothers, a wife or a sweetheart, not with praise of Hitler or his Third Reich on their lips. Some wept for themselves and their lost equipment. Some for their fallen comrades. And some prayed. The end came on the final day of January, 1943, when the twenty thousand troops left in the final pocket laid down their arms. Of course, some of the ninety thousand men taken prisoner in the battle did survive, outlive the war, and finally return home. But at Stalingrad the major offensive power of the German army was broken. In the weeks and months that followed, more and more Russian tanks were produced to help in the big offensive that lay ahead before the Germans were pushed back to Berlin and forced to surrender. One of the most important of these tanks was a new heavy tank, the Joseph Stalin III, a 46-ton monster that was an improvement over the earlier Stalin tanks. It was built low to the ground and was armed with a 122-millimeter cannon. Again the Russians employed an excellent power plant to give it mobility, and designed a heavily armored hull with highly angled sides. But right up to the final days of the war, the T-34, especially after it was equipped with a new high-velocity 85-milhmeter gun, was the backbone of the Russian armored forces that led the way to victory.
THE AMERICAN MAILED FIST
St.-Lo The GI stopped cleaning
and listened intently. He looked It had been only a whisper in the wind, but it sounded Hke planes. There it was again. Some of the other soldiers waiting nearby looked up too. One pointed at some faraway specks suspended motionless just under the broken his rifle
up, scanning the sky to the north.
"They're coming," he said.
the whisper in the sky was Hke the buzzing of a swarm of Soon there were more specks and the buzzing turned into the
distant throb of
The leading planes became quite distinct. They were U.S. heavy bombers, B-17 Hying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators. Behind them, the roar of their motors filling the heavens, came hundreds and hundreds more, stretched out in a long procession back
wave thundered by over
the white, upturned faces of
bombs, tumbling spewed down out of the belly of a leading plane. More strings followed and the tiny sticks turned into hailstorms of screaming death, raining on dug-in German forces bracthe
later the first long string of
like tiny sticks in the air,
ing for the blow.
There was a moment of tense, expectant sOence, then suddenly earth heaved and the first shattering explosions smashed against the Germans' eardrums. In the sweep of a few seconds, the Nazi soldiers were hurled from the cahn, damp stickiness of a summer morning in France into a fiery heU of earsphtting explosions, screaming men, and roaring planes that tore up the landscape and converted it into an unrecognizable wasteland that looked as if it had been lifted from the moon. the
— Tanks and Armor
On and on
the planes came, thundering
corridor in flights of twelve, to unload their
down the same bombs over the
marked out on each navigator's map immediately west of the town of St.-L6 in Normandy, France. The rectangle was 7,000 yards wide and 2,500 yards deep, an area of about six square miles, set down just south of the main highway that connects St.-L6 and Periers. The aerial pounding administered that day was the beginning of the most decisive battle of World War 11. El Alamein had been a turning point in the war, the first great British victory and the beginning of the end for the German forces in North Africa and the Mediterranean area, Stalingrad in the Soviet Union had been another great victory, hurling the Germans back from the highwater mark of their power, a victory bought at staggering cost in Hves and equipment by the Russian army and Russian people. But the battle now unfolding at St.-L6 on this sultry July 25, 1944, was the most significant of the entire struggle with Nazi Germany, for within the next six days of brutal and brilliant fighting the defeat of Germany was made inevitable. After that it would only be a matter of time, and many more battles, before Germany would be rectangle
forced to surrender.
The American armed
had traveled a long and difficult road to arrive at this chmatic moment of World War II. That journey began with the British and American invasion of North Africa in November, 1942, After final victory there, the American Seventh Army and British Eighth Army swept on into Sicily in the forces
Mediterranean. There General George
commander and World War
— the Seventh's
same man who had commanded America's
tank forces at St.-Mihiel and in the Meuse-Argonne Germans and his British allies with a series of
startled both the
spectacular maneuvers. across the island to cut
sent a tank force crashing straight
later pulled off three tank-
German lines. These ascrumbled the German defenses and sent the enemy forces scrambling back into Italy. On September 3, 1943, the British and Americans invaded Italy proper, and then left their two armies there to slug their way up the Italian boot whUe the Allies' main attention shifted back to Britain, where a new all-out attack against Germany was being prepared. This was to be a leap across the English Channel into north-
supported amphibious landings behind saults
ern France where a showdown battle could be fought with the Germans on the western front. It was given the code name "Operation Overlord."
That giant blow
— D Day. Under a protective
cover of airplanes and bobbing barrage balloons, and aided by a
massive fleet, the AUied armies stormed ashore on three British and two American beaches on the eastern coast of the Normandy peninsula in France. Normandy is a stubby finger of land jutting north from the French mainland. Capped at its northern tip by the port of Cherbourg, which the Allies wanted to seize quickly for supply purposes, it was soon aflame with a series of savage battles. The two armies clawed their way ashore. The Americans smashed across the peninsula, turned north, and captured Cher-
Then, with the British slugging it out toe-to-toe in the Caen area with most of the German armor in Normandy, the American First Army, commanded by General Omar N. Bradley, turned south and began a slow, grinding battle to swing its forces on the Allied right up abreast of the British. This movement was necessary before the combined American and British forces could launch a massive effort to break out onto the plains of northern France. Time and again the GI's lunged at the concentrated, dug-in Germans, but the gains were measured only in yards and hundreds of yards and in thousands of casualties. For hindering their progress was one of the most formidable of defensive obstacles ever encountered by fighting men. It was called the hedgerow. A hedgerow is a raised embankment of earth topped by hedges and other shrubbery whose roots extend down through the em-
bourg after a
swift, brutal fight.
bankment, holding it tightly together. These walls of earth and roots bounded all the tiny farm fields into which most of Normandy was divided, and were made even more defendable by an irrigation trench circumscribing the outer edge of each field. Behind these barricades the Germans organized a tight, interlocking defense, forcing the Americans and the British to win each field separately. Tanks were of little use in such close-in fighting. When they tried to cross a hedgerow, the front end reared upward exposing the thin-skinned undersurface of the tank to the deadly bazookas a rocket weapon which the German infantry used quite
Four American corps battered
— the VIII,
Tanks and Armor
XIX, and V, in that order from west to east trying desperately to bring their hne up to a main highway extending northwest across
St.-L6 to Lessay on the west coast. General Bradley he could reach this line he would finally be sufficiently free of the swamps and soft marshy ground, through which part of his army had been fighting, to launch a concentrated maximum effort to break out of the hedgerows and crush the back of the German Seventh Army and other forces holding up the Allied advance in Normandy. felt that if
on July 3 failed to achieve this Corps area on the west coast, but brighter news followed. The XIX Corps, under Major General Charles H. Corlett, finally smashed through the German lines and captured the city of St.-L6 on July 18, giving the Americans a solid base for their coming, all-out attack. On the XlX's right flank, the powerful VII Corps also advanced to positions just short of the St.-L6-Lessay highway. And then, best of all, word reached General Bradley's headquarters that a tankman named Sergeant Curtis G. Culin, Jr., of New York City, had perfected a device that would solve the hedgerow problem for tanks. This device consisted of a crossbar welded across the front of the tank from which four protruding tusks or large metal prongs extended. Using this attachment, a tank could jam the metal tusks into the hedgerow, turn on the power, and crash right through, taking a portion of the roots and embankment with it. Bulldozer blades attached to tanks were also used and worked equally well. In this improved situation, Bradley chose the area immediately in front of General Lawton Collins' VII Corps as the point on which to concentrate a maximum effort to break through the German lines and gain control of an important road network fanning out south and west of St.-L6. Bradley laid out the rectangular target area for bombardment by virtually every plane the United States could bring to bear more than two thousand and simultaneous heavy shelling by U.S. artillery. After the aerial attack, and while the Germans were stiU stunned, he and Collins planned to launch three infantry divisions the 9th on the right flank, the 4th wedged in on a narrow front in the center, and the 30th on the left into the hopefully shattered German defenses. Their goal was to achieve a penetration that could be exploited later by armor. offensive that
objective, particularly in the VIII
Tanks and Armor
The two outside divisions were to swing to right and left, after making a good advance, and secure the shoulders of the breach while the 3rd and 2nd Armored Divisions and motorized 1st Infantry Division were sent crashing through the center. They were to attack south and southwest, with one of the main efforts aimed at
capturing Coutances in a shallow-angled strike to the west
would then wheel north to destroy the strong Gerup the VIII Corps. The VIII Corps in turn, with the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions supporting it, was to assault these same German forces frontally one day after the VII Corps attack began. The XIX and V Corps were to join in the fight later,
coast. This force
was given the code name of "Cobra," after the deadly snake. And like its namesake it coiled slowly into a
taut, tightly constricted ball,
In the VII Corps area
and 30th Divisions waited tensely in their foxholes. Close up behind them the columns of the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions were equally ready, jammed up against the hedgerows of tiny farm fields. Each contained two main tactical field command groups, one known as Combat Command A, or CCA, and the other as Combat Command B, or CCB. And while these infantry and armored troops were making their final preparations, a quiet little drama was beginning a few miles to the west. A big six-foot general, wearing gleaming pearlhandled revolvers and a helmet shining with three bright silver stars, moved quietly into the headquarters of Major General Troy Middleton, the VIII Corps commander. The new man was Lieutenant General George Patton, who had been assigned to the VIII Corps as a deputy First Army Comm.ander to advise Middleton on his phase of the operation until Patton's own Third Army could be the GI's of the 9th, 4th,
Patton, his white hair tumbling across the upper edge of a
tanned, leathery face, bent over Middleton's
maps and asked
"Where are your tanks?" Middleton pointed out the assembly areas of the 4th and 6th
them up here
in front," Patton said. "In front of the
While the two generals worked out their plans, heavy bombers and medium bombers were rolling up to the flight line at U.S. Eighth Air Force bases in Britain. And on airstrips carved out in Normandy, fighter-bombers had been wheeled up and were ready to go. July 24, the date for the great battle, had arrived, but as takeoff time approached the weather turned bad. The first waves of the attacking aircraft rose into the dark, threatening sky and were well on their way before the entire operation was ordered postponed because of an approaching storm. A crisis blew up quickly. Not all of the planes could be reached by radio.
Three waves of fighter-bombers swept in and bombed the target area, while the VII Corps' three infantry assault divisions, which had withdrawn several hundred yards to the north, watched. Then
more than 300 heavies came in and pounded it again, but tragically 15 of them dropped their loads 2,000 yards short, killing 25 and wounding 131 soldiers of the 30th Division. General ColHns, in the ensuing confusion, ordered his troops to attack
and retake the ground they had given up
The Germans had
pulled back and
in the with-
infiltrated the area as the
resisted subbornly while
pounded the advancing GI's. It was tough going but by nightfall most of the ground had been captured. On the German side of the line. General Fedor von Bock, the German commander in the west, was highly pleased. Not realizing that the American assault had been aimed only at regaining the ground that had been given up, he thought his forces had halted a major attack. The aerial bombing had caused some German casualties too, but there had been no serious damage and now he confidently moved more troops into the area to strengthen his positions.
the American side of the line the ground forces and their
had taken from their own air force and the Germans. But "Cobra" was still very much on and was ordered to begin all over again the next day with an aerial assault lasting two hours and twenty-five minutes, followed by an attack by the ground forces at 11 :00 a.m. Once again the three assault divisions pulled back during the night this time twelve hundred yards or three-fourths of a mile
commanders were angry and shaken by
the punishment they
Tanks and Armor and were waiting
what they hoped would be positions of safety came into sight. They watched as the bombers same hurtling by in successive, shattering waves of sound and the aerial assault began. Caught directly under this storm was the German's ehte Panzer Lehr Armored Division as well as elements of the 5th Parachute Division, 2nd SS Panzer Division and 275th Infantry Division. Lieutenant General Fritz Bayerlein, Panzer Lehr commander, wrote vividly later in the book entitled The Rommel Papers of the
caused by the attack. He said
"Units holding the front were almost completely wiped out, despite, in
cases, the best possible
equipment of tanks,
tank guns, and self-propelled guns.
communications had been cut and no command was The shock effect on the troops was indescribable. Several men went mad and rushed dementedly around in the open
were cut down by splinters [steel shell fragments]. Simultaneous with the storm from the air, innumerable guns of the U.S. artillery poured drumfire into our field positions. "During this time I myself was located at a regimental sector command post near La Chapelle-en-Juger, in the center of the bombardment. Housed in an old Norman chateau, with ten-foot walls, we were rather better protected than the others. Again and again the bomb carpets rolled toward us, most of them passing only a few yards away. The ground shuddered. Quick glances outside showed the whole area shrouded by a pall of dust, with fountains of earth spewing high in the air. For many hours we were unable to leave the cellar, and it was afternoon before I was able to get until they
While Panzer Lehr was being torn apart, the oncoming waves of American bombers were having more and more difficulty finding the target area. All they could see was a giant shifting storm of dust and smoke rising from the ground, obscuring the terrain features they needed to recognize the target. On the ground the GI's watched with increasing concern as the dust and smoke drifted back toward their retracted line. Orange smoke pots were lighted across the front to mark their positions *
Courtesy Harcourt, Brace
World, edited by B. H. Liddell-Hart. Reprinted
St-L6 but the prepared color signal was quickly swallowed up in the
Then once again fragmentation and highexplosive bombs came screaming down on the American forces from their own planes. In that second misplaced bombardment, billowing clouds of dust.
111 Americans were killed, 490 wounded, and scores of others were left dazed by concussion and shock. Despite pleas from some mauled frontline units for a delay, the final order
crackling over the
wires at 11 :00 a.m.:
"Attack." Only a regiment of the 9th Infantry Division talion of the 30th
respond immediately, and they
jumped off after only a short delay. The bitter and angry GFs picked up their guns and started slogging forward through the smoke and flying dirt while the last of the bombers pulled away into the distance. It did not take them long to learn that many Germans had survived. On the VII Corps' left, the 30th Division charged up and over the St.-L6-Periers highway and ran head on into a roadblock of three panzers, well supported by other troops. With weapons crackling across their front the GFs charged the obstruction and were beaten back. Pulling back temporarily, they next struck at the pocket of resistance from both flanks and ran into other Germans who had survived and were in good positions. But they had hit hard and the attack gained slowly. Finally, with the help of supporting tanks, a dozen German armored vehicles holding up the attack were shot up and the advance resumed.
The infantry assault ran into pockets of tough resistance. Germans who had survived the bombing were still fighting effectively and some German artillery began firing again, too. Orders also finally got through that started two columns of German reinforcements moving toward the threatened La Chapelle-en-Juger area in the line. One column was a reinforced regiment from the 353rd Division Across the VII Corps' front
and the other a regiment of the 275th Division.
The German command felt that if it could hold the pivotal La ChapeUe position in the center of the battle zone it would be possible to rebuild a new main line of resistance reaching out to isolated units still fighting at Hebrecrevon to the east and near Montreuil on the west. But even as the frantic German commanders were putting these 211
Tanks and Armor
plans into action, American fighter-bombers flashed by overhead
and spotted the advancing regiment of the 275th Division. They swooped down and smashed it into a congested mass of flaming vehicles and tiny fleeing groups never able to fight effectively again. By 4:00 P.M. on July 25, Montreuil fell to the U.S. 9th Division. By nightfall, troops of the 4th U.S. Infantry Division also were almost in the outskirts of La Chapelle and about midnight the tough, hard-pressing infantrymen of the 30th Division crashed through into Hebrecrevon.
So by dawn of July 26, as the second day of the battle began, a fatal weakness was beginning to form in the right center of the German line. It was opening up along the boundary between the Germans' 352nd Division holding down the eastern flank of the battle zone and the shattered remnants of Panzer Lehr and its attached units on the left of the 352nd. The regiment of the 275th Division that had been started forward to fill part of this void was in smoking ruins, unknown to the German command, and the destruction of Panzer Lehr had been much worse than was realized. None of this was apparent to the Germans or Americans as the second day of the fighting began at dawn on July 26. Despite the heavy bombing of the Germans the day before, the three U.S. assault divisions had been able to advance only about a mile south of the St.-L6-Periers highway on a three-mile front, and the VII Corps' two most important immediate objectives the road centers of Marigny on the west and St.-Gilles on the east were still more than two miles away. Nowhere was there any clear indication that the penetration hoped for had been achieved. General ColHns, directing almost every move of the battle with great skill, had already decided that he must turn loose the waiting armored divisions to keep the attack moving, rather than wait for a confirmed penetration of the German line; othervnse he might be faced with a slowly hardening situation in which all the initial advantage of the aerial bombing would be lost. So in the gray first Hght of July 26 the massive columns of the 3rd Armored Division began to rumble forward behind the 9th Infantry Division, and to the east the long armored snake of the 2nd Armored Division began to uncoil and slide forward in the 30th
The 9th shoved, pushed, and pounded away at the German hnes, them farther to the west and south to give the approaching armor more room, and clear the roads in its area for the tanks. The 30th did hkewise in its sector, trying to shoulder the Germans to the east up against the Vire River, while also pushing them farther south. Its attack made almost no progress during the morning but shortly after noon began to move. A short time later the advance units of the 2nd Armored's CCA passed through the division zone and headed toward St.-Gilles.
In the center, the attack of the 4th Infantry Division followed a pattern
Chapelle-en-Juger fighting in a
what was happening elsewhere. La on the morning of July 26 and the division,
similar to fell
column of regiments
with one regiment
leading and the other two following one behind the other steadily but slowly south, clearing scattered resistance.
denly in the afternoon, the leading regiment's reserve battalion was thrown into the fight and the front in the central sector broke
The division raced forward for three miles, overrunning German artillery units and part of the 353rd German infantry division. The drive carried it across the vital St.-L6-Coutances high-
A short distance to the east a regiment of the 30th Division plunged across the same highway and drove on south, aiming this time to get astride the St.-L6-Canisy highway, another main route radiating southwest of St.-L6 like a spoke in a wheel. Now the full weight of the American assault slammed into the
and bleeding but
Armored deployed on the west side of the main road into Marigny and a regiment of the motorized 1st Infantry Division on the east. They advanced through the hedgerows under a constant hail of enemy smaU-arms fire. Small roadblocks were smashed with tank and artillery fire. Then the resistance stiff'ened. Tank units of the 2nd Panzer Division suddenly opened up on the advancing GI's and fire from 75millimeter antitank guns tore at the 3rd Armored's columns. Soon heavy fire from the 353rd German infantry division joined in. A tough fight shaped up quickly just north of Marigny. CCB backed off, then threw a quick, hard right hook at the Germans but was beaten back. The fighting continued until late in the
of the 3rd
Tanks and Armor
the afternoon. Finally fighter-bombers roared in and
German armor. CCB lunged
pounded the Germans again and this time
the defenses sagged. By nightfall the tankers were batthng in the northern outskirts of Marigny. They pulled up west of the town to reorganize, bringing up supplies, and to prepare for more fighting.
The 2nd Armored was making
progress, too, in
sector of the VII Corps front, blasting defenders out of
hedgerow emplacements and destroying a strongly defended roadblock just north of St.-Gilles with the help of dive-bombers. With these obstacles cleared away. General Maurice Rose, CCA commander, hurled his columns against the village proper and by midafternoon rolled past the last shattered German gun emplacement protecting the town.
came screaming down on
tanks as they
out the other side of St.-Gilles. Clusters
of exploding mortars tore at the ground around them, but the tanks
spread out, laid down a withering fire, and continued to advance. Mines exploded, sending geysers of dirt into the air and spinning tanks around and halting them in strangely tilted positions. But other tanks surged on by, at times picking their way in twisting paths across giound badly cratered by the heavy aerial bombing, some of which had fallen well outside the target area. General Rose felt a sudden give in the strength of the defenders. The armored spearheads picked up speed. Resistance was melting away. The roar of tank motors echoed triumphantly across the countryside and by late afternoon the tail of CCA's column cleared St.-Gilles.
had found the gap that had opened up between the remnants of Panzer Lehr and the German 352nd Infantry Division, With the sun dropping in the sky, they were now racing south. Hatches popped open on the tanks and the grinning tankers poked their heads out into the cool evening wind Rose's hard-driving tankers
stream by the column. dive-bombers peeled off a tight formation one by one and struck at Canisy, just barely visible in the distance. Tank guns began blasting near the head of the column, too, but soon the exto
away and the tanks poured south at an even faster They quickly smashed a roadblock outside Canisy and as
plosions died pace.
were rolling past the
in corps headquarters General Collins studied the rapidly
changing situation as each of the new advances was posted on his maps. There was no longer any doubt about it. The German line had been penetrated and torn open in one area, and the Germans were showing increasing signs of disorganization in others. It was no time to give them a chance to recover. Collins laid down battle
"Continue the attack tonight." It
historic order that drove
the entire assault.
All through the night the GI's and their fire-spitting steel-clad companions fought innumerable small battles with confused, retreating bands of Germans and when the sun rose the next day,
gray light spread over this scene:
Near Marigny, CCB of the 3rd Armored rumbled slowly
down the road toward crashed through to the high ground north of
the southwest, jabbing a slim steel dagger
the city the next day.
Armored rumbled up through the early morning darkness and went into action for the first time in a battle immediately to the east of CCB. It ran into a storm of opposition and bogged down in a slugging match with tough German defenof the 3rd
near Carantilly. But immediately to the east the spectacle of a great armored breakthrough was unfolding. The 2nd Armored "Hell on Wheels" Division was smashing deep into the German rear. CCA, under the skillful guidance of General Rose, had rolled on and on through the night, and, fighting in two columns, captured St. Samson de Bonfosse shortly before midnight. Early on July 27 Rose's tanks fought a blazing battle with German panzers and antitank guns at Le Mesnil Herman, shattered their battle line, and bulled on through in a running fight to take high commanding ground nearby sive positions
called Hill 183.
Not satisfied even with these spectacular gains. Rose formed up armored task forces and sent them plunging much deeper to the south in what is known as a "reconnaissance in force" that is, toward Villebaudon and Tessy-sur-Vire to strong probing units find out what was there. While Rose's CCA was driving this armored sword straight down the east flank of the VII Corps battle zone, CCB of the 2nd Armored was ordered into the fight. It rolled down the highway from St.-
Tanks and Armor in Modern Warfare Gilles
behind CCA, turned southwest at Canisy, and smashed a fist straight toward Cerences and Brehal on the west
new armored coast.
D. White, CCB's tough, skilled
self-propelled artillery well forward in his column, ordered dive-
bombers to pull into position overhead, and gave one sharp, crackhng order to all his unit leaders: "Go!" Go they did. Far out in front of his racing tanks, armored reconnaissance troops fanned out to find the enemy and pinpoint it for the running, smashing fire the main body hurled at everything that way. General Bayerlein, trying to find and reorganize the shattered remnants of his Panzer Lehr Division, was in a command post he shared with the 275th Division near Dangy when White's reconnaissance troops raced by only a few yards away from his headquarters. Moments later the thundering column of the main body began pounding through the city. The Germans slipped out of the got in
rear of the building they were using and fled to the south.
Through roadblocks, occasional fights with brave
and a few
raced for the sea, throwing
and smashing up their communicaso badly that German commanders had no idea of what was into confusion
happening. So swift was the strike that the reconnaissance units flashed by German antitank guns at fifty to sixty miles per hour, before the crews could fire, and continued on to seize main road junctions. White's forces reached St. Denis-le-Gast near the Normandy west coast on July 28, then began to wheel slowly around to face north
and prepare for battle with large German forces cut off between there and Coutances. The Germans in this pocket were strong and desperate but their situation was about to become much worse. On the morning of July 28 the VIII Corps, still in its original battle positions, north of the St.-L6-Periers highway, launched a heavy assault down the west coast. With the 6th Armored Division on the right and the 4th Armored on the left the armored blow came crashing down on the German defenses and quickly forced a breakthrough. Fighting minefields, traffic congestion, and roadblocks, the twin armored columns slowly snaked down through the VIII Corps infantry 2l6
had been holding the
and by early afternoon The 4th At the end of the day its armored infantry had front,
the 6th bypassed Coutances on the west and pushed on. hit the city
Germans out the other side. had begun three days before with the massive bombing near St.-L6 was taking on an entirely new character. At first, General Bradley had set his sights on the limited objective of cutting off and destroying the major German forces holding up the VIII Corps, although at the same time making preparations to convert his attack into a much larger and more sweeping assault on the entire German position in Normandy, if forced the last of the
the great battle that
the opportunity presented
The opportunity had definitely arrived. The entire left side of the German battle line had been smashed and now a new dazzling the city of Avranches, standing high objective loomed up ahead on a bluff overlooking the sea and located right at the juncture of the Normandy and Brittany peninsulas. If the American armored columns now streaking south and southwest could quickly cover the remaining thirty miles to Avranches, where a number of Normandy's major highways converged, they could burst out onto the plains of northern France and wheel their expanding forces around in a swift war of movement that would force the Germans into a final showdown in the west. While General White's COB turned north and fought a series of short, savage engagements with the Germans pocketed south of Coutances, the 6th, 4th, and 3rd Armored Divisions hurled six armored columns south toward the Avranches area in a thundering stampede of armor that amazed and staggered the German command from Normandy to Berlin. Where had these professional, well-trained divisions come from? Only a year and a half before, in North Africa, the American tankers had been green and awkward and there had not been very many of them. Now an entire armored army was bearing down on the gateway to mainland France, employing every trick of the blitzkrieg tactics the Germans had perfected between World War I and World War II. Where indeed had it come from? That, of course, is a story all
The sun blazed down on the neatly aligned barracks of Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. Up one street a puffing, wheezing 217
— Tanks and Armor in
group of World War I Renault tanks clattered toward an assembly area at one edge of the encampment. There they pulled into line and the motors sputtered into silence. A short time later an even stranger sight came up the road a long column of British Mark VIII tanks, straining and groaning under the great weight of their age, and huge caterpillar tracks, banging and pounding against the pavement. They too pulled into the
day long, more and more columns of men and vehicles arBy nightfall the following units had checked in: The 16th (light) Tank Battalion, equipped with the Renaults; the 17th (heavy) Tank Battalion, equipped with the Mark VIII's; an armored car troop; the 2nd Battalion of the 6th Field Artillery less one battery, equipped with 75-milhmeter guns towed by Liberty trucks; a company of engineers; a signal company to handle communications; a medical detachment; ammunition train; observation squadron, and finally a motorized battalion from the 34th InAll
mounted in Liberty trucks. Thus were assembled, on July 1, 1928, the components of a new experimental mechanized unit, the United States' first effort since the end of World War I in 1918 to delve into the problem of developing a modern armored force. This pitifully weak grouping of three thousand men and old, worn-out equipment came to be known as the "gasoline brigade," and was looked upon in some quarters as a sort of joke. But quite significantly it contained all the major arms needed and later incorporated in modern armored divisions, demonstrating quite fantry Division
clearly that there were officers in the U.S. command structure who were well advanced for their time in theories of armored warfare. The brigade in one sense was an outgrowth of the Experimental Mechanized Force Great Britain had established the year before. The American Secretary of War, Dwight Davis, watched the first maneuvers conducted by the British force and on returning home promptly ordered a similar force established by the United States. For the rest of the summer and on into the early fall, the "gasoline brigade" wheezed and puffed around the countryside near Fort Meade, attempting to carry out its assignment of developing doctrines that is, basic rules and theories on the use of mech-
anized forces. But everywhere it went, its path was marked by broken-down trucks and tanks, pulled off to the side of the road or into a field, with crews bent over the engine compartments trying to find out what had gone wrong this time. The equipment broke down repeatedly and on September 20 the brigade was disbanded, less than three months after it was formed. Virtually nothing had been accomplished, and in those days of very low congressional appropriations for the armed forces, it appeared that no one particularly cared. Britain's Experimental Mechanized Force also ran into similar difficulties and was abandoned. So both nations began to dismantle their efforts to develop armor and methods of using it, just as the Germans were launching their most serious studies of the subject at a secret armored force experimental center at Doeberitz near Berlin in 1929. But there were men in both Britain and the United States who did care, of course, and who fully grasped the significance of the performance of tanks in the latter stages of World War I, particularly in the battle of Cambrai. One of these was Colonel Adna Romanza Chaffee, a cavalry officer in the Army's G-3 training section in Washington. After the "gasoline brigade" was abandoned, he helped write a report recommending establishment of a separate new branch of the service to develop an armored force.
making this new force into a closely coordinated team of all arms including mechanized reconnaissance elements, tanks for striking power, infantry mounted in armored vehicles and trucks to follow up behind the tanks, and engineers, signal corps, and similar units. One of his most significant proposals was that the United States
outlined the need for
fleet of fast, new tanks. Had it done so, thousands of would have been saved when World War II broke out and the nation found itself far behind the Germans and Russians in
develop a lives
tank design. It was during
this period, too, that J.
Walter Christie, the
American inventor, who later sold some of tanks to the Germans and Russians, became achis experimental tive again in trying to interest the United States Army in some of his far-advanced tank designs. Some were purchased for experimental purposes but the United States ordnance men failed to centric
Tanks and Armor
grasp the importance of some of his innovations, while both the
from them, and used his ideas in many later designs of their own. But the small group of officers backing the creation of armored units were still active, and in 1930 a new grouping of tanks, trucks, motorcycles, armored cars, infantry, engineers, artillery, and signal and supply troops assembled at Fort Eustis in Virginia. Included in their equipment were four new tanks, given the code designation of T-1. They were the first post- World War I tanks of any significance in the American armed services and were the first of a series that led to the powerful Grants, Shermans, Pershings, and Fattens of much later design. The T-1 in many ways was a fairly well designed tank for its day. Its main weapon, a 37-miUimeter cannon, was mounted in a turret set near the rear of the tank chassis. It had a speed of twenty miles per hour and could go sixty-five miles without refueling. Its protective armor ranged from 0.25 of an inch to 0.375 of an inch in thickness. This was about average for the day and the 37millimeter was up with the best of the tank guns then being used in other nations. So America at this stage was not too far behind the Russians benefited greatly
the rest of the world in tank design.
The new mechanized force maneuvered all through the winter and spring of 1931 and then was disbanded. Efforts to develop American armor now took a new and, in some
respects, unfortunate turn
General Douglas Mac-
Chief of Staff, assigned the remnants of the
Fort Eustis mechanized force to the horse cavalry for reorganiza-
and development, and instructed the infantry to develop tanks own use. This arrangement led to the development of two different doctrines for the use of armor one involving the use of heavy slow tanks to support infantry; the other involving the use of small, undergunned and lightly armored, but swift tanks, to act more or less in the role of cavalry. Completely lost was the central idea upon which the new panzer divisions of Germany were based that armor was not basically a weapon to support infantry and it was not in its best use a new form of cavalry; it was a new weapon which when properly used in conjunction with other arms was a tion
assaulting force that could quickly decide the course of
results of this error
the failure to develop
an early date because medium tanks are the backbone of the striking forces in armored divisions. And a good medium tank had to combine two essentials the heavier armor of the infantry tanks and the speed and maneuverability of a good
the cavalry type tanks
mounted cannon. The United before this was fully realized.
the addition of a powerful, turretStates
But there were plenty of officers who did understand armor who were now assigned to Fort Knox, Kentucky, along with remnants of the second mechanized force. They were absorbed into the 1st Cavalry regiment there and from this was developed the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) in 1933. Despite emphasis on light, undergunned and thinly armored tanks in this new unit, it was led by bright and aggressive officers who developed a slashing type of warfare that put the efforts to build an armored force finally on a permanent foundation. the T-2, In the years that followed, new tanks were developed a combat car designated as the M-3, the T-4, and finally the T-5 all in the light-tank category and most of them armed only with machine guns. A new M2A1 medium tank armed with a 37-millimeter gun had also been planned but was quickly found to be completely inadequate when Hitler sent his new armored divisions crashing through Poland in September, 1939. The United States then finally began to awaken to the danger developing in Europe. In 1940 nearly 100,000 men were assembled in Louisiana for extensive maneuvers which quickly showed the pitifully poor state of the American armed forces. Trucks had to be used to simulate tanks, gun crews had to use wooden imitations of their weapons, and the troops were awkward, undisciplined, and sloppy in performance. But lessons were being learned, too, and one was that the proper development of American armor had been set aside for too long. On the final day of the maneuvers. May 25, 1940, a group of officers assembled in the basement of the high school in Alexandria, Louisiana, to discuss this problem. Present were some of the top officers of the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) and the infantry tank brigade General Frank Andrews of the War Department general staff; his executive. Lieutenant Colonel T. J. Camp; and a tall,
Tanks and Armor muscular
with hard, squinting eyes, nattily dressed in cavand breeches, adorned with two pearl-handled sixshooters lashed around his waist. He was, of course. General officer
At that historic gathering, the discussion focused on two overwhelming facts: (1) On May 10, just fifteen days earlier, Hitler had hurled his armies, led by ten panzer divisions, against the Dutch, Belgians, British, and French in western Europe and had broken clear through to the sea; (2) the United States had at best only the equivalent of one half of one armored division and it was equipped with woefully inadequate tanks and guns. The group unanimously concluded that an independent armored force, free of both infantry and cavalry control, must be created immediately. The next day. General Chaffee, who was then commander of the 7th Cavah'y Brigade (Mechanized), officially proposed that two armored divisions be created. His recommendation was quickly accepted and on June 24 Chaffee was named to be the first chief of
Armored Force. The 1st Armored Division was quickly set up at Fort Knox, drawing mainly on men of the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) for its basic troops, and the 2nd Armored Division was created at Fort Benning, based on the infantry tank units stationed there. The best tank available for their use at that time was the totally inadequate M2A1 medium, and there were not many of them. Its main weapon was a 37-milhmeter cannon and it was already recognized that a more heavily armored medium tank equipped with a 75-millimeter gun was needed to match the success of the German's Panzer IV which had a short 75-miIlimeter cannon. American designers also were well aware that there was no tank the
turret then in existence in the United States that could handle such
a big gun. The situation was desperate, so the basic design of the earlier T5E2 tank was utilized to produce a new medium tank
equipped with a 75-millimeter gun set in a hull mounting on the side of the tank. This tank was rushed into production just barely in time to help the British turn the tide in North Africa. Despite lack of equipment, the new armored force expanded rapidly. Six separate reserve tank battalions were in existence by early 1941
and new armored divisions were created at a staggering Armored at Camp Polk, Louisiana, on April 15, 1941;
rate: the 3rd
York, at the
and others came into being at regular sixteen armored divisions were in exist-
5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th,
intervals thereafter until
ence in various stages of training. One of the unique characteristics of these divisions were the three combat command headquarters that were built into each
Combat Command A, Combat Command B, and Combat Command Reserve. This was a distinctly American contribution to the organization of armored divisions and
proved to be a most effective one.
CCA and CCB were both full tactical field headquarters number This
of troops could be attached to accomplish a given task.
quite simple to set
the armored division that were tailored for the needs of a given mission.
As already noted,
CCR, although not
at first envisioned as
being used on a par with the other two combat commands in attacking the enemy, gradually took over that role in many divisions. The
was that some divisions ended up broken into three basic combat teams which were maneuvered by the division commanders, much as the three regiments in infantry divisions were used. But regardless of such advances, the nation's position in the early stages of World War II was critical. So, lashed by the need for catching up with the Germans who had started the war so far ahead in tanks, and in their ability to use them, the new American armored force was polished, honed, and trained for the great battles that lay ahead. Many of its units became classically professional and ehte outfits, like the 2nd and 4th Armored Divisions. And many of the separate tank battalions, like the grizzled 70th which was the first one created, and the highly aggressive 712th which supported the 90th Infantry Division, also became troops that any army would be proud to claim. It was the vanguard of this force, created so rapidly in 1940, 1941, and 1942, that forced the breakthrough at St.-L6 and Coutances and shattered the entire western flank of the German armies in Normandy in July, 1944. Now it was rushing in thundering rivers of steel toward the picturesque city of Avranches and the great armored adventures that lay ahead in the open country of northern result
High Noon They
him "Old Blood and Guts" and
called a fool, a neurotic, a foul-mouthed bore, a braggart,
and a was perhaps all of these many-sided as the meanings of
genius. General George Smith Patton,
things. His personahty
these terms. For he
could curl a hard-bitten cav-
scorn with the unnecessary vulgarity of his lan-
He could also drive men into battle against seemingly hopeodds and realize later, with no apparent sense of remorse,
that the dead he partly by his
saw on the
unashamedly over the and uncomplaining in
own hand. But he was
had been put there at least man, too, who could weep
wounded And he was a pray to his God
sight of his brave soldiers lying
his knees to
whose basic laws said, "Thou shalt not kill," and then could ask that God for fair weather for battle. And if the skies turned fair, then by his orders many young enemy soldiers, equally as brave as his own, would die under the shattering, lightning blows he had taught his army to deliver. Yes, George Smith Patton, Jr., was a man of many contradictions, and perhaps he was even a fool in matters of a pohtical and diplomatic nature. But a fool he never was in combat, and the spectacular, startling results of his campaigns in World War II can only mark him as a general of historic proportions in that long conflict. For he never lost a battle and might even have shortened the war had he been listened to. Now, at a most crucial moment for the Allied cause, he was about to step onto the stage of history and take charge of the careening American armored columns that were descending on Avranches. General Bradley had already informed him that at high 224
noon on August 1, just as the American First Army was expected to be pushing on beyond Avranches, it would be divided into two armies. One, under Patton, would become the Third Army, and the other, retaining the First Army title, would be placed under the
of General Courtney Hodges, while
would move up
In that role Bradley would be in
Army Group Commander. command of both armies. These
to the position of
organizational changes were necessary because of the expanding
number of American divisions now pouring into France. It was an assignment that Patton had spent a lifetime preparing himself for. A graduate of the U.S. Mihtary Academy at West Point, he served many years in the horse cavalry and was deeply indoctrinated with the cavalry methods of using slashing attack
and a war of movement
to strike at
But while he believed in the cavalry in its day, Patton was also a student of military history, and never became a tradition-bound prisoner of cavalry ways. He studied aU the great critics and mihtary authorities and recognized that warfare changed as weapons changed. Consequently he was quick to seize upon the great possibilities opened up by the first fully successful use of tanks at Cambrai in World War I. With this background, he was a particularly fortunate choice when selected to lead the two miain American tank attacks of World War I, at St.-Mihiel and in the Meuse-Argonne After World War I ended, Patton was one of the few American officers with experience in armored warfare, but he had little chance to put his learning to use. Between World War I and World War II, the United States Army dwindled to a tiny, skeleton organization that had no funds and little inclination to develop a modern armored force. But durtn.g those days Patton did perfect his controversial ideas of leadership in battle
— of requiring that his men
be kept in as top physical condition as he was, that they be whipped into tense fighting units by a crushing disciphne they
both feared and respected, and that they learn
hve and breathe
a doctrine of highly aggressive warfare that would stun and shatter
In carrying out these concepts he developed a form of personal
a symbol of the type of leadership he
Tanks and Armor wanted
polished cavalry boots,
and various assortments of selfdesigned uniforms, one of which earned him the nickname of "The Green Hornet." And whenever possible there were the two pearl-handled revolvers strapped around his waist as if he were a two-gun badman from the days of the old west. Patton had an opportunity to put his leadership theories into operation after the first American armored divisions were created in 1940 and he was named to command the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Benning, Georgia. Later he ran the sprawling desert training center near Indio, California, where tank units were trained under conditions approximating those in North Africa. And finally in November, 1942, he commanded the American task force that invaded French Morocco in North Africa and sealed the fate of trimly tailored cavalry breeches,
Rommel inflicted a serious defeat on and Kasserine Pass that Patton's ability as a leader was fully proved. He was sent forward to take command of the defeated U.S. 2nd Corps, which the British felt was not only green, but poorly trained and undisciplined. In a matter of weeks Patton lashed the defeated, dispirited U.S. troops into an angry, snarling, tightly organized band of men straining to get back at the Germans who had brought this slashing commander down on their backs. The corps went on to victory after victory and Patton was chosen to lead the newly formed American Seventh Army that invaded Sicily. His blazing offensive there forever marked him in the German mind as the most dangerous of the American commanders. Consequently, when the Allied invasion of France began in But
the Americans at Faid
intelligence officers searched everywhere to
locate Patton, for they felt certain
When they had determined that he was not commanding the U.S. troops in Normandy, they decided that the heaviest blow had not yet been delivered. They were convinced Patton would lead another landing with even stronger forces, probably in the Pas de Calais area, immediately north of Normandy and near the mouth of the Seine River, where there were excellent landing beaches. To be prepared for this, they held back their Fifteenth Army in assault against Hitler's Europe.
High Noon that area, repeatedly refusing to divert the
major portion of these
German armies were
chewed to pieces. The Allies encouraged this myth by creating an entire dummy army and dummy camps in Britain to make the Germans think that Patton was still there and would soon be leading this army ashore near the mouth of the Seine River. Even a fake radio traffic was set up at the camps to simulate the normal exchange of messages such as an army would have, for it was known the Germans would be listening to gain what information they could. While all this deception was being practiced, the real Patton, and the headquarters of his still-unborn Third Army, sHpped into Normandy under very tight security wraps. It was to assure a smooth transference of power to that army that Patton was placed in virtual charge of the operations of General Middleton's VIII
Corps on the American right flank as the St.-L6 offensive began to roll.
hand could be seen immediately in the events He had long felt that a massive assault led by
Patton's skilled that followed.
armored divisions firing airbursts over the German hnes as they advanced, and moving behind a rolling artillery barrage, could have smashed the German defenses without the aid of a saturation aerial bombing. But the latter strategy had been decided upon and Patton now made the most of it. He brought the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions to the front of the VIII Corps and sent them crashing southward after the assault near St.-L6 began to make good progress. Patton was like a caged lion as the front burst open. He raged up and down the right flank, lashing the men forward, driving them on and on until finally, late on the afternoon of July 30, reconnaissance elements of Major General John S. Wood's 4th Armored Division topped a rise and looked down on the city of Avranches. Light tanks and combat cars joined them there, then some medium tanks from the advance guard of the division's main body.
The grinning tankmen, their faces grimed with smoke and dirt and etched with exhaustion, poked their heads out to gaze at the placid scene. Another tank came clattering up. The officer in the turret swept the area quickly with his binoculars, waved his arm, 227
Tanks and Armor
and pointed toward two bridges below, spanning the See River on the north side of the city. "Get going!" he shouted. "What are you stopping here for?" Under Patton's driving leadership the 4th Armored had pushed into the lead in the race to reach Avranches and the officer on the
knew it was essential to seize the city as quickly as possible. The geographical position of the town alone dictated bold action before the Germans could organize a strong defense. Located on a high bluff, it nestled between two widely spread fingers of the Bay of Mont-St.-Michel on the west and was bounded by two rivers, the See to its immediate north, and the Selune four miles to the scene
Five main highways from Normandy, jammed with the approaching American armored columns, converged onto the two bridges over the See and funneled traffic through the city proper. This roadnet was further compressed into one main highway
leading south from Avranches across a single, long bridge crossing the Selune near Pontaubault. At the end of the bridge,
ways branched out again
to the south, east,
land France. It was this roadnet and vital gateway to the plains of northern France that the 4th Armored tanks were after as they came streaming down from the high ground toward the See bridges. Motors roaring, the columns clattered up onto the spans and began a thunderous dash for the other side. Every man involved waited tensely for the expected storm of German fire to descend on them, or for the bridges to suddenly heave upward as prepared demolitions were touched off. This never happened, and by early evening the 4th Armored's CCB, under the command of Brigadier General Holmes E. Dager, began pushing on into the undefended city. Dager sent small task forces racing ahead to set up roadblocks
south and east, and in a lightning thrust fired a third force off along the northern bank of the See to seize another bridge five miles to the east at Tirepied. So far so good, but Dager's problems to the
were just beginning. Because he was the top officer on the spot, he was placed in complete control of operations in the Avranches area and soon found himself at the center of a series of simultaneous, explosive developments.
of his problems
mounting number of Ameri-
High Noon can troops descending on the city. As night fell, a motorized regimental combat team from the 8th Infantry Division arrived, and close behind it came the rumbling columns of the 4th Armored's
CCA. As these troops began to pour across the See River bridges into Avranches, Dager received an order from General Middleton to drive farther south during the night and grab river crossings over the Selune. He was also ordered to seize high ground south and southeast of Avranches.
While jammed-up American columns, responding to this order, way through the city's clogged streets, a long column of German vehicles began to approach the See River bridge northwest of Avranches under the cover of darkness. The Germans knew their front to the north had collapsed but they had no idea that the Americans were already in Avranches. They were completely unaware of the danger ahead. The GI's guarding the bridge were equally startled to see the first German vehicles come around a bend in the road and head straight for their positions, as if the Germans were out for a Sunday evening drive. The effect of this surprise was increased, too, when the waiting American saw the first vehicles were marked with large red crosses and presumably were carrying wounded. They were allowed to pass. Then the Germans suddenly became aware of the Americans on both sides of the road and opened fire. tried to force their
them to surrender quickly, but not before several of the vehicles marked with the red crosses had blown up. They were loaded with ammunition instead of wounded. Several hours passed, then a much larger and more heavily armed German column began descending on Avranches from the north and west. This time the leading German vehicles spotted the Americans quickly and opened fire. An American tank company
in reply forced
guarding the road fled back into Avranches in confusion. The Germans raced across the unguarded bridge and poured into the city in large numbers before dawn. They drove deep into the ranks of armored infantrymen helping guard that area and a swirling, confusing battle erupted with neither side fully aware of
what was going level,
The American fire built up to such a fierce the Germans were gradually forced to pull 229
Tanks and Armor back. After the sun
up, they attacked again, and this time
were shot up so badly that the assault collapsed. Dager's trials were not over, however. As his CCB stabbed on south of the city on the morning of July 31, there was the sudden crash of huge German guns opening fire nearby. The flashes of flame from their muzzles were quickly spotted, high on a bluff to the southwest. And even before the first deadly barrage from these batteries came screaming down, CCB's Sherman tanks rolled up and began blasting away in reply. The rain of American steel built up rapidly and with the help of a quickly launched infantry attack completely destroyed the
such quick and aggressive actions as this that marked the difference between the first American troops that fought in North Africa and those now fighting in Normandy. They were showing the imprint of experience, piled on top of good training and aggressive leadership. They were becoming battlewise and It
Meanwhile, there was no pause in the continuing battle to make the Avranches area secure. CCA of the 4th Armored was now given four vital missions, and was ordered to let nothing stand in its way of completing them quickly. An armored task force shot southeast from Avranches to accomplish the
seized the village of
the Selune after several quick skirmishes.
Another task force, directed
capture a small
Selune, south and east of Ducey, ran into
but smashed through a series of
German roadblocks along
and shot up German motorcycle troops and a few tanks trying to stop them. At one point the tanks had to race by a burning German ammunition dump where showers of exploding shells were being hurled into the air and in all directions. But they made it. The third task force captured another dam nearby. The fourth and most important of the assignments was an attack directly south to gain the Pontaubault bridge. It seemed unbehevable that the Germans would have left it undefended after their failure to blow up the bridges over the See, but CCA met no resistance. It was not until its racing tanks were charging across the last span that enemy vehicles were spotted approaching from the west.
The Germans were too late, much too late. It was already late afternoon of July 31 and that most picturesque of American generals,
launch one of the most
spectacular performances of the war.
cowboy general think he
It was high noon of August 1, 1944. Tanks were storming through the narrow corridor at Avranches in a torrent that split
newborn Third armor and motorized infantry divisions for-
Patton, at last unleashed, laid the lash on his
at breakneck speed. Popping into division command posts or showing up suddenly at critical road junctions, he laid down and enforced his basic demands for conduct of the unfolding battle:
"Keep going!" "Don't stop!" "Don't worry about your flanks!" "Don't let anything stop you! Bypass, encircle, go around, hit in the sides
rear, let the infantry take care of
slows you down!"
"Overwhelm and confuse the enemy! Never let him get set!" The Germans had found Patton at last and he was hurling their blitzkrieg tactics back into their teeth with savage ferocity. Overhead American fighter-bombers filled the skies, diving and smashing German gun positions, leaving German columns in smoking ruins, paralyzing every major German troop movement attempted in dayhght and even shooting up some of those at night. At the point of the thundering armored columns, air force firecontrol ofiicers rode the careening tanks and directed the planes overhead toward any German resistance that arose. Hitler's outraged reaction to all this was described by German writer Paul Carell, in his account of the battle for France (In-
vasion: They're Coming),
astonishment at the
boldness of Patton's operations was shared by most of the
command. To understand what was happening, 231
necessary to take a
Tanks and Armor
understand the intentions of the Allied Immediately south of the Normandy peninsula is another much larger mass of land known as Brittany, or more commonly as the Brest peninsula. It had many good ports the British and Americans felt they must have as gateways for the entrance and landing of supplies their armies would need in future operations in France. The most important of these was Brest at the eastern tip of the peninsula. Others were St.-Malo on the northern coast, and St.-Nazaire and Lorient on the southern. Also important was the city of Nantes, situated slightly inland on the Loire River which ran generally east and west in a line extending close look at a
at that time.
from the southern edge of the peninsula.
To visuahze this geography take your right hand, fingers exthumb up, and hold it in front of you, pahn toward your face. Your thumb can then represent the Normandy peninsula, the remainder of your hand Brittany. Brest would be at the tip of tended,
at the point where your hand and Nantes would be directly
your longest finger. Avranches would be
the rest of your
on the lower side of the heel of your hand, while the Loire River would extend on up the lower side of your arm. Midway between Avranches and Nantes was the city of Rennes. The basic British and American plan was to do three things simultaneously: seal off the Brittany peninsula by driving south from Avranches, through Rennes to Nantes; drive west up the peninsula and capture St.-Malo, Brest, St.-Nazaire, and Lorient; below
in other forces facing east to protect the
This thinking was based on the behef that the Germans would be shoved back out of
Normandy in a much more now taking place. But,
gradual fashion than was
Americans had torn open the entire southern part of the German defenses in Normandy and had punched a small, although widening, hole through the final defense line at Avranches through which American troops were pouring at an alarming rate into mainland France. The Germans, of course, were even more startled by what was happening than were the Americans. The massive punishment they had absorbed had left their troops in shock and confusion. No matter how hard they struggled to pull together sufficient forces
High Noon changing too rapidly. The Americans kept turning their flanks. The diving planes overhead punished them every time they moved. Their communications were almost gone. Units were lost, missing, and sometimes totally to strike back, the situation kept
destroyed without their
commanders knowing what had happened
them. Supplies were short, even food was scarce. To add to the Germans' problems, the U.S. 6th Armored Division burst out of the boiling confusion around Avranches, turned the to
corner into Brittany, and struck straight for the port of Brest, nearly two hundred miles away at the peninsula's western tip.
Right behind the 6th, the 4th Armored also came bolting out of the Avranches bottleneck and charged south toward Rennes, a
major transportation center where ten major highways converged,
midway across the Brittany peninsula. And fanning out in front of the 6th and
probing feelers to the west, south, and east, were scores of small armored cavalry units, organized on Patton's orders from the 6th Cavalry Group. Their mission was to feed information on German
and movements directly back into Third Army Headquarters. Working closely with these teams were roving bands of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI). The FFI were guerrilla-type units formed before the invasion began by Frenchmen eager to help drive the Germans out of their homeland. The constant flow of information that these groups and the cavalrymen were able to give
Patton was frequently the basis of his daring, onrushing
Of equal importance was
demonstrated in getting the two armored divisions through the congested corridor at Avranches in less than fortyeight hours, and now a long hne of infantry divisions were pounding right on through behind them. The infantry slowly shoved the Germans back to the west and widened the corridor, but it still remained a critically narrow passageway only twenty miles across discipline
obvious target for a
counteroffensive to try to cut
Americans with a drive through Avranches to the sea. Too late to stop the explosive American assault at this time, the Germans sent bombers winging in over the congested columns to knock out the critical bridges, but ran into a storm of fire from antiaircraft units that had been deployed in strength to meet that expected chaUenge. More than twenty German planes came plum-
Tanks and Armor
meting out of the skies over Avranches during the
August, downed by these gunners.
Meanwhile the 4th Armored's thrust to the south rolled on through the afternoon of August 1, meeting only token resistance, and by evening had reached the outskirts of Rennes. There a stunning barrage of heavy artillery fire suddenly descended on the advance guard of CCA and brought it to a quick halt. A company of armored infantrymen and twenty-five Shermans attacked toward the city again a short time later but were again forced
was summoned and thirty P-47's rained bombs on the German defenders while U.S. artillery pounded their positions. Again the tanks and infantry struck but the assault made back. Air support
General Wood, the 4th Armored's commander, decided on a new tactic. He was being held up too long, and although he felt con-
he could capture the city with infantry reinforcements now on the way, he did not want to get bogged down in a tough, slugging fight. So, early on the morning of August 3, he sent two columns of tanks sweeping around the western side of Rennes. CCA was on the inner arc moving on a radius extending from about fifteen to thirty miles from Rennes; CCB was on the outer arc making a much wider sweep that would carry it well to the south where it would be in position to assault another city, fident
Chateaubriant, to the east.
Already Wood, a tough, extremely able, cavalry-type commander, had sensed something entirely new in the battle and wanted to be in a position to take advantage of it. Why not turn the main Ameri-
can effort to the east not west toward the Brittany ports and launch a gigantic wheeling movement of the Allied armies toward
and the Seine River? Patton by this time was also fully aware of this great
portunity that had opened up in front of his
army and had made
plans to go as far as he dared, under his existing orders, toward taking advantage of
the newly created
through Avranches and wheeled it quickly to the east where it seized positions between Bracey and St. Hilaire-du-Harcouet, then extended its line on south to Fougeres. Next, the 5th Armored came rumbling through Avranches and was sent racing into position
Corps' right flank, also facing east.
for the great battles he saw forming Corps into line on the expanding American right flank with orders to push its southernmost units to the Loire
ahead, wheeled the
peeling off columns to take
Corps crashing forward on August 5 seize a sixty-mile stretch of the Mayenne River and bridgeheads
position, Patton sent the
on the other
the entire front
was aflame with one continuous, raging
Not only were the Americans striking out boldly in all direchad been rushed through Avranches, but back in Normandy the British and Canadians also had attacked after the breakthrough at St.-L6. Then the American XIX and V Corps began battering back the German front to the east of St.-L6. And in the bloodiest of this fighting, the American V Corps was pinched out and left behind as the converging attacks of the British Second Army and the American XIX Corps joined shoulder to shoulder and smashed almost straight south toward Vire. While these developments were under way in Normandy, CCA and CCB of the 4th Armored Division had completed their right hook around the Germans at Rennes. Their thundering columns cut seven of the major highways leading into the city, then elements of CCA turned north to attack the Rennes defenses from the rear. At the same time as these tanks were closing in from the south, a motorized regiment from the 8th Infantry Division descended on the city from the north. The doughboys dismounted, deployed, and hit the northern defenses hard. The defenses cracked and the Germans escaped that night, fleeing southeast over secondary roads to St.-Nazaire. So fluid was the battle situation that the Germans were able to slip through country the 4th Armored's tanks had passed over only a short time before. General Wood, who had tried but was unable to win a change in his orders that would send his eager armored battalions smashing due east, raced west on August 5 and seized the city of Vannes, battle.
tions with the troops that
completely seahng off the
forces inside the Brittany pen-
insula. In indecisive fighting in the next
his tankers also
captured the approaches to Lorient and St.-Nazaire but were too late to seize the critical ports
themselves from the strong
into prepared defensive positions outside
Tanks and Armor
each of the port areas. There the 4th was pinned down in indecisive skirmishing while it longed to be off in an all-out drive to the east. It was not until August 11 that one of its units got back into full battle stance again.
took over from an
had been outposting Nantes at the southeastern corner of Brittany. That night explosions ripped through Nantes' streets as the Germans destroyed their supplies and prepared to get out. The next day CCA stormed into the city, overwhelming the remaining Germans. But even before the 4th Armored completed this assault and while the VIII Corps was sweeping west behind the 6th Armored up the Brittany peninsula and the XV and XX Corps were driving east a major crisis had built up to the north. isolated single infantry battalion that
In the darkness, east of the village of Mortain, on the night of
1944, GI's of the very tired 30th Infantry Division and
attached elements of the 3rd Armored could hear the rumblings
many German tanks moving toward their front. There was no undue alarm, however, as panzer units had been known to be in that area for some time. But if the Americans had been able to see through the gloom ahead they would not have felt so secure. Three German panzer divisions and attached units were struggling up congested roads toward jump-off positions for an attack they hoped would cut off the narrow twenty-mile-wide corridor the Americans held around Avranches. The plan was to drive straight through to the sea, restoring a German front that would bottle up most of the American and all of the British armies in Normandy and sever the lines of supply to those American divisions that had already slipped into Brittany and mainland France. The German attack was to be carried out by the 116th Panzer Division on the right, driving west along the north bank of the See River toward Cherence; the 2nd Panzer Division reinforced with two extra tank battalions, making the main effort in the center with a thrust along the south bank of the See; and the 2nd SS Panzer Division, reinforced with the 17th SS Panzer Grenadiers, attacking on both sides of Mortain on the German southern flank. Waiting behind the three divisions was the 1st SS Panzer Division of
be launched through any breakthrough achieved to aU-out effort to capture Avranches.
The Germans had tion but the assault
great difficulty getting their troops into posi-
burst out of the darkness in front of Mortain on the flank, broke through in
2nd SS Panzer Division
two columns that encircled a battalion of
the U.S. 30th Infantry Division on Hill 317 in front of the town,
on in a stream of armor down the highway toward St.Other elements of the division advanced on high ground immediately east of Mortain. But despite the complete surprise of
the attack the battalion on Hill
317 eventually brought the assault had excellent observation and called shattering volleys of artillery fire right down on top of the German columns, paralyzing them temporarily. The main assault in the center met a somewhat similar fate. Only one of the 2nd Panzer Division's two columns was able to attack in the early hours of August 7. The other was stalled, waiting for attached units that were still fighting their way forward toward the jump-off positions. But the one column that did attack on time broke through quickly and raced along the south bank of to a halt. It
the See River to within three miles of shortly after daybreak,
into tough resistance
The second column at
2nd Panzer Division
progress too for a time, capturing Belle-
was slowed down a short time later by heavy antitank fire and forced to halt. As this assault was stopped, the Germans launched the 1st SS Panzer Division through the 2nd Panzer Division in an effort to burst through and seize Juvigny. But it, too, was soon stopped. The Americans had reacted quickly and savagely to the German fontaine, but
counteroffensive, smashing at the panzer columns with increasingly heavy barrages of artillery fire
and a quick buildup of antitank gunfire both north and south of the See River. And before the day was over, units of the U.S. 30th Infantry Division and 3rd Armored Division were slamming into the open southern flank of the 2nd Panzer Division's narrow penetration. Farther north the German assault was a complete failure. The
of the 116th Panzer Division disliked the plan and he would be leading his men to certain encirclement and dis-
Tanks and Armor
aster if he attacked to the west as ordered.
decided to ignore
and was angrily removed from command
late in the
division then attacked within thirty minutes but
could not move. But despite such setbacks, the Germans had achieved great initial surprise and had carved out a bloody, six-mile-deep wound in the American line at its most critical juncture. They were not about to give up. Only fourteen miles away the waters of the Bay of Mont-St.-Michel lapped at the beaches where the Normandy and Brittany peninsulas joined. If this target could be reached the Americans would suffer a tremendous defeat and their breakthrough would be sealed off once again. Both sides had lost heavily in manpower. The U.S. 30th Division reported more than six hundred casualties and it had many units cut off and surrounded but still fighting fiercely. The Germans, too, had lost about half their seventy leading assault tanks and were being battered now from the air as well as on the ground as a low fog burned off and packs of U.S. fighter-bombers swarmed down on top of them. Von Kluge began moving more armor toward Mortain immediately, planning to strike again quickly, this time with six panzer divisions in an assault the Americans would never be able to stop. But his plans came tumbling down like a house of cards even as the first of the three new divisions were trying to break contact in front of the Canadians and head south. At that very critical moment the Canadians launched a heavy assault southwest toward Falaise and two of the divisions had to be quickly thrown back into the line, barely halting the Canadian drive after it had ground out an eight-mile gain, half the distance to Falaise. Even more alarming to von Kluge were Patton's daring operations to the south and rear of the main German armies facing Normandy. Patton had sent the XV Corps charging straight east into mainland France in a sweep that covered eighty-five miles in one week. Capping this performance, the corps battered down the last German defenses in front of Le Mans at about 5:00 p.m. on August 8 and entered the city. Then at the very moment when von Kluge was struggling to bring up more divisions to renew the Morhit a stonewall defense. It
tain offensive, Patton suddenly swerved the XV's fired-up divisions
to the left
and began driving north. The German troops
High Noon hurled into the Mortain attack were
long finger stuck be-
tween the descending, armor-tipped jaws of a steel trap: the Canadians battling down from the north toward Falaise and the Americans driving up from the south toward Argentan. To von Kluge the XV Corps' sudden change of direction spelled only one word "Encirclement !" He must pull all of his forces back quickly or the Germans would be headed for total disaster in France. For the Allies were threatening to trap not only the panzer divisions that had been thrust deep in toward the coast, but a major portion of all the German troops fighting in that area. With two Allied armored divisions leading the French 2nd Armored and the U.S. 3rd the XV Corps struck north deep into the wide-open German flank. By August 13 the tankers were battling, almost in the outskirts of Argentan, but were halted by heavy fire from well-positioned German tanks on high ground :
north of the village.
Kluge's efforts to get his troops out of the
trap were beginning to take effect.
already had thrown up a
sohd wall of defenders against the Canadians in the north and desperately trying to stop the Americans. The fighting that followed was the bloodiest and most savage of
now he was
Germans. They held the mouth of the Falaise-Argentan pocket open with almost superhuman effort while their commanders tried to lead them back out through the narrow opening. The escape became a virtual stampede with the Allied forces pulled up on high ground around the outer edge of the the entire
German area. From all sides artillery screamed down on the struggling masses of German troops. Part of the time a merciful fog hung over their heads, but every time it lifted, swarms of planes swept down to bomb and machine-gun them. General Bradley had ordered the
to halt at
able to close the gap.
Argentan, thinking the Canadians would be Too late, he ordered the American advance
resumed and now the fighting was brutal for every inch. On August 19 the 1st Polish Armored Division, fighting with the Canadians, and elements of the U.S. 90th Infantry Division, coming up from the south, met at Chambois and theoretically closed the gap, but their forces were spread very thin, defending a hne along the Dives River. In the final days of this struggle, German armor formed up in woods within the shrinking pocket 239
Tanks and Armor
and smashed through the Polish-90th Division in small groups and fleeing to the east.
descended on the remaining and fields littered with burning tanks and vehicles. The entire countryside was strewn with bodies of German soldiers. Dead cows and horses, their bodies bloated with gas, were everywhere. Maddened horses that had broken loose from their harnesses raced wildly across a landscape marked by pillars of flame from burning gasoline supphes. Black a continuous rain of
as they tried to escape over roads
smoke hung over the entire scene. The Germans fought bravely, and often under magnificent leadership that brought an estimated twenty thousand to forty
thousand of them safely through the opening created by the armor before that route could be sealed off again. Others waited until they were within sight of Allied troops and then waved white handkerchiefs in sign of surrender. Wherever a few Germans were able to give themselves up safely, dozens of others sometimes hundreds followed. In one case, Captain Jack Galvin of Company B, 712th Tank Battalion, was told by a prisoner that in a valley below the rim where Galvin's tanks were in position there were thousands of Germans who wanted to surrender. The captain walked down into the valley and led eleven hundred prisoners to safety through the
American lines above. By the early morning of August 21 the thunder of the American, British, and Canadian guns began to subside and then fell silent. Allied patrols moved through the German death trap, rounding up remnants and stragglers of the shattered German forces in the west. The Germans lost an estimated fifty thousand men captured and ten thousand killed in the battle, and those who had escaped were streaming north toward the Seine River with the Allied armies in close pursuit.
The American pursuit actually had begun many days earlier. While the XV Corps swung north to close the trap on the Germans in the Falaise-Argentan gap, Patton launched the remainder of his Third Army in a wide sweep to the north and east. The XX Corps to the south of the XV plunged east into central France. On its right, Patton inserted the new XII Corps and sent it racing along the Loire. Even half of the XV Corps two divisions was angled off from the fighting at Argentan and aimed to the east.
High Noon Thus, while the terrible slaughter at Falaise and Argentan was being played out through its final bloody chapter, Patton had
mounted an offensive of three corps abreast driving straight toward the Chartres-Orleans passage to Paris and the vital industrial areas of northeastern France. The Germans had hoped to throw up a strong defensive hne to block this natural geographical funnel but this soon became impossible. Under the impetus of Patton's bold assault, a XII Corps task force of 4th Armored Division tanks and 35th Division infantrymen attacked Orleans on the morning of August 16 and captured it before nightfall. The XX Corps' 7th Armored Division attacked Chartres on the evening of August 15, and again on August 16, but not until 5th Infantry Division troops joined in the fight on August 18 did the city fall. On the 16th the XV Corps' 5th Armored Division captured Dreux and the 79th Infantry Division to its im-
mediate south plunged across the Eure River and seized a bridgehead only thirty-seven miles from Paris. Only one more of Patton's fantastic moves remained to complete the rout of German forces south of the Seine River before the Nazis would have to give up all hope of stopping the American drive before it reached the heavily fortified industrial areas of northern France and southern Germany. Patton exploded that big blow on
Armored, followed by the 79th Infantry, on the Seine, thirtyfive miles northwest of Paris. From there the 5th turned and started battering its way west straight down the bank of the river in an effort to cut off the Germans now fleeing north from the debacle in Normandy and the Falaise-Argentan fighting. While the 5th smashed away at increasingly heavy resistance it took five days for it to advance twenty miles and rob the Ger-
firing the 5th
straight north to capture Mantes-Gassicourt
of their best Seine River crossing sites
— the 79th crossed the
Seine the night of August 19 and had virtually the entire division, including artillery and attached tanks, across by sunset the next day.
In a constant umbrella over the widespread, running battles many areas, American fighter-bombers dived
being fought in so
and soared over the jammed, retreating German columns, smashGerman communications, inflicting terror on the German troops and destroying their will to resist. Flaming wreckage was piled along the sides of every major ing them into smoking ruins, destroying
Tanks and Armor
highway. It often had to be pushed aside with bulldozers before tanks and other vehicles could get through. The German army it
seemed was being broken into small, fleeing fragments and there was mounting hope that a complete collapse of the Germans in the west might come at any time. But even as the German flight was turning into a disorganized rout, one of the great realities of war reached out to slow down and stop the racing American columns. Since August 1 the two U.S. armies, particularly the Third, had been consuming gasoline and other supplies at a much greater rate than they could be replaced at the battlefront.
now across the Seine, Paris was about to and Germany's Rhine River was the Third Army's next objective. But the day came when the tanks had to pause, first for a day or two, then for longer periods. The fuel was gone and even superhuman efforts to fly in sufficient supplies to keep the armies going were of little help. While the tanks came to a halt, and Patton's tanks were
Patton raged at his superiors to give him gasoline, the Germans escaped back to their system of border fortifications known as the Siegfried Line.
The war would go on. Autumn was at hand and winter loomed gray and bleak behind it. It was a time of bitter disappointment and gloom. Somehow the victory that seemed right in Patton's
Drive to Victory By
the middle of February, 1945, the U.S. Third
a long road, piling victory on victory, but at a terrible price in casualties to both the American and German nations. Behind it were the sweep across France after the breakout at Avranches,
the crossing of the Seine, capture of the ancient fortress of Metz, the close-up to the Saar River, and then the terrible winter fighting
what has come to be known as the "Battle of the Bulge." had hurled twenty-six divisions at the weakest point in the Allied line in that attack on December 16, 1944, and the snows of the Ardennes Forest in Luxembourg and Belgium, where the battle was fought, were still bloody from the two months of savage combat. But the British and Americans had finally forced the Gerin
borders with staggering losses.
Army, its armored and infantry divipounded into a new steel-like toughness, were forming up once more for a shattering armored assault on the enemy that would send him reeling back to the Rhine River. As the GI's and tankers pulled into their final assembly positions in preparation for the new offensive, they had plenty to think about. They knew Hitler's armies had been terribly weakened by the desperate fighting that had just drawn to a close. But they also knew that the Germans were in a very strong defensive position. the battered Third
Gazing across the snow-blanketed fields, the soldiers could see the dragon teeth and fortifications of the Siegfried Line into which the
not going to be easy," more than one officer had warned his
were a broad
belt of blunt, concrete spikes
— Tanks and Armor
protruding from the ground. They were designed to snarl and tear
any tank that tried to cross into the area they were protecting. Behind them the forts of the Siegfried Line appeared equally formidable but actually were not as strong as they had been in the past. After the fall of France in 1940, many of the heavy guns in the fortifications had been moved to the Channel coast where they were used to try to stop the Alhed invasion landings of June 6, 1944. Later, after it became apparent that the Germans were going to be chased out of France and back into Germany, efforts were made to strengthen the hne. Now, once again, it had regained at least a major part of its original strength. It would need every bit of strength the Germans could build into it because all along the German border, from Holland south to the Moselle River, the British and Americans were closing up to their jump-off positions for the coming attack against the Rhineland that area of Germany lying immediately west of the Rhine River. In the north was the First Canadian Army. Immediately south of it was the Second British Army, and then in succession, moving south, the U.S. Ninth, First, and Third Armies. And south of the Third, facing the Germans in the Saar, was the U.S. Seventh Army, which, together with French forces had landed in southern France on August 15. The veteran U.S. 4th Armored Division opened the offensive on February 23, roaring out of its Third Army assembly area and heading for the German lines. It smashed into the Siegfried fortifications and began to chew its way slowly through the concrete barriers and intervening minefields. Fighting off panzer-led counterattacks, the 4th smashed across the Enz, Nims, and Prum Rivers within four days and closed up to the Kyle River. To the north of the Third Army's advancing tanks the U.S. First Army was attacking too, toward Koblenz on the Rhine, while on its northern flank the Ninth Army scrambled across the Roer River and met with immediate success in an attack off the tracks of
that took the
briefly to regroup, the
4th Armored jumped off again on
5, burst through the Eifel Mountains, and smashed sixty-
five miles straight
the Rhine River.
high ground overlooking Koblenz on
the left of the rampaging 4th, which led
Patton's blitzkrieg assault, the 11th
also bulled through
Drive to Victory collapsing
Andemach their way into
the Rhine near
Army troops fought Cologne on the Rhine. Turning quickly south, another First Army column, led by the 9th Armored Division, struck down the left bank of the Rhine toward the Third Army, shattering into hundreds of fragments the
while farther to the north First the ancient
Abandoning much back across the Rhine to escape the pounding they were taking between the two American armies. It was at this moment that the Americans came across one of the great windfalls of the war. Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Enge-
forces trying to defend the Rhineland.
of their heavy equipment, the
of a task force spearhead-
approached the city of Remagen, Germany, about noon on March 7. The group was on its way to a point farther up the river but paused to take a look at Remagen from high ground nearby. The scene below was placid, almost picturesque. People were walking calmly through the streets, unaware that American forces were near the area, and a train was chugging across the doubletracked Ludendorff railroad bridge spanning the Rhine.
ing the 9th Armored drive as
The bridge! It was intact! It had been prepared for demohtion like every other bridge across the Rhine but had been left in place as the Germans struggled to get remnants of eleven divisions back across the river. If
could be captured the Americans could throw the AlUes
bridgehead over the Rhine.
reahzed the importance of his discovery.
few moments, then attacked. The tanks raced for the bridge and poured across, overwhelming the surprised guards on the other side before they reahzed what had happened. The joyous news was flashed to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Alhed Commander, and he ordered the First Army
hesitated only a
to get as
troops across as possible.
Within hours the roads leading
tanks, trucks, half-tracks, infantry
Remagen were jammed with mounted
in trucks, infantry
walking, self-propelled guns, and heavy artillery pieces while the roar of a mounting battle spread across the countryside on the east side of the river.
Tanks and Armor
nightfall five battalions of tanks and infantry were on the bank and before much longer an entire corps had rammed its way into the expanding bridgehead. The German defenses west of the Rhine had collapsed completely. North of the First Army the U.S. 9th, fighting under the control of Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery's 21st Army Group, had rammed through to the Rhine, and the British and Canadians were in position and beginning elaborate preparations
to cross the river.
only General Alexander M. Patch's U.S. Seventh
short of the Rhine, but his day
was coming. The Seventh was
located immediately south of the Third, facing intact
holding a triangular pocket of ground bounded on the north by the Moselle River, on the west by the Saar, and on
the east by the Rhine. This area
as the Palatinate,
northern shoulder had been exposed by the Third Army's spectacular charge up to the Rhine.
For some reason, the Germans did not foresee the grave danger facing their forces along this northern shoulder, bounded by the Moselle River. They were misled by the expectation that the Third
Army would be poured into the Remagen bridgehead farther north. And their attention was diverted still further when the Seventh Army attacked the Palatinate troops frontally along the Saar River on March
The next day, the Third Army suddenly wheeled to the south and smashed into the shoulder of the German forces across the Moselle. The 4th Armored hterally sent German troops flying in all directions with a spectacular lunge down the west bank of the Rhine that carried thirty-two miles without a stop. This cut across the rear of the Germans in the Palatinate and threw their defense planning into confusion. Other Third Army forces sHced into the Palatinate forces from the north and the Seventh Army troops broke through in frontal assaults. By March 17 long lines of German prisoners, hands clasped behind their heads in the common sign of surrender, were streaming to the rear down both sides of Palatinate roads that were jammed with advancing American armor. And by March 25 all resistance in the Palatinate pocket had ceased. The remnants of twenty divisions had been captured. But Patton, who was again in top form, did not wait for the
Drive to Victory
cleanup in the Palatinate to begin his next move jump across the Rhine.
"WeVe got to get a bridgehead at once," he said. "Every day we means saving hundreds of American lives." He had already warned his divisions earlier that they were going to take the Rhine on the run. The general now put his finger down on the village of Oppenheim, roughly midway between Mainz and Worms, and issued his orders: save
"We'll cross here It
was 10:30 P.M. when the
tiny assault boats of the 5th In-
fantry Division shoved off into the darkness on the night of
22-23. There was no
by overhead and no planes plummeting down out of the sky to lay their bombs on prearranged targets, thus signaling the beginning of an attack. Patton was trying a tricky bit of deception, for farther north at Mainz, where intelligence reports indicated that the Germans were expecting a crossing, artillery fire was raining down on the Germans. A smoke artillery rustling
screen blanketed the area also.
regiments of SS troops moved in to meet the expected attack, peering through the swirling clouds of
rubber assault boats slipping through the choppy waters of the Rhine. At daybreak they were still peering through red-rimmed, sleepless eyes, and still there straining to catch sight of the
were no GI's in sight. But not so at Oppenheim. The GI's scrambled ashore quietly there and drove swiftly inland against almost no resistance. By daybreak, when the surprised Germans began to react more vigorously, six battalions and some amphibious tanks were across. By noon the entire 5th Division had made it and construction of bridges was well under way. Right behind the 5th the veteran Texas-Oklahoma Division, the 90th, poured across the river and by 4:00 p.m. the tanks of the mighty 4th Armored were crossing on a treadway bridge. The Germans, amazed and angered by Patton's swift crossing, began to concentrate heavy artillery fire on the bridgehead. Out of the skies the German Luftwaffe hurled more than 150 planes in bombing and strafing runs against the advancing Americans. Heavy antiaircraft fire sent many screaming down in flames, and the tank bridge, despite the heavy bombing, remained intact.
Tanks and Armor in
The next morning the 4th Armored rolled through the infantryheld bridgehead, picked up speed, battered down roadblocks, and then burst through for a twenty-mile lunge clear to Aschaffenburg. Patton lost no time in exploiting his advantage. The 90th Infantry struck into the outskirts of Darmstadt. The 26th Infantry
and 6th Armored Divisions were pumped into the bridgehead and went racing through to join the drive. While the Germans were still reeling from these blows they were sent staggering back into their homeland by what followed in the next few days. On March 23, the day after Patton's night crossing, General Montgomery launched the British Second Army and the U.S. Ninth across the Rhine after a tremendous air and artillery bombardment. The same day Patton sent the U.S. 87th Infantry Division, supported by a barrage laid down by eight artillery battalions, paddling across the Rhine at Boppard, immediately south of Koblenz. And early the next morning his 89th Division also crossed eight miles farther south at St. Goar. In a final staggering setback
Germans, the U.S. First Army came plunging out of the Remagen bridgehead with armored columns striking south and for the
northeast to Limburg and Giessen respectively.
Germany was now under way and the became more hopeless day by day. But one
final battle of
spectacular armored feat remained to be performed before Hitler's
Third Reich came crashing down in ruins. This was to be a swift encirclement of the most important industrial area in Germany, the Ruhr.
is concentrated immediately east of the Rhine River, between boundaries marked by the cities of Duisburg on the north and Dormagen on the south. Without its factories the Germans would not be able to continue the war because the Ruhr provided most of the iron and steel and other heavy industries the Nazis had to have to build tanks, artillery pieces, aircraft engines, and innumerable other weapons. While Patton's Third Army tanks struck toward Kassel, south of the Ruhr, the U.S. First and Ninth Armies mounted a joint offensive that quickly sealed off this industrial area from the rest of Germany. It was on March 30 that this final drive began. Tanks of the
Drive to Victory
2nd Armored Division broke out
"Hell on Wheels"
bridgehead north of the Ruhr and swept
arc toward Munster. At the
in a flaming
same time Major General Maurice
Armored Division burst out of the Remagen bridgehead and smashed through weakening German resistance for fifty-five miles in a wild, twelve-hour dash before halting for a few hours' sleep. On April 1 the two armored columns met at Paderborn, clamping a ring of steel around what was left of twenty-one Rose's 3rd
closing days of the
created to fight out the final
in grinding this force into submission
while the British Second and First Canadian Armies swept across northern Germany, and the U.S. Ninth, First, and Third Armies
raced to meet the onrushing Russian armies at the Elbe River and in Czechoslovakia.
In the final days of the conflict American, British, and Russian
armor advanced against almost no opposition through the ruins American armored columns were two new powerful tanks, the M24 light tank and the M26 medium. The M24 was a distinct improvement over any previous light tank produced by the United States. It weighed only twenty tons but was armed with a 75-millimeter gun, carried a crew of five, and had a top speed of thirty-four miles per hour. Its heavy frontal armor plate and the turret were both angled to shed aU but the most direct hits from antitank guns. The 46-ton M26 medium was equipped with a 90-millimeter gun and had a long, low silhouette. It was an obvious attempt to build a tank powerful enough to handle the German's huge Panther and Tiger tanks. But now the fighting was drawing to a close and new tanks would not be needed again for a while. On April 18 the German stirvivors in the Ruhr pocket 325,000 men and 30 general officers surrendered, and on May 7 the final surrender of all German of Europe. Included in the
armies was signed in ceremonies in BerHn. The terrible war that Hitler had launched in September, 1939,
after six years of fighting.
assessment of the part played by armor in bringing down his regime will have to be left to history, but without question it was a large one. For it was the tank more than any other weapon, with the possible exception of the airplane, that
Tanks and Armor decision
the major battles were fought.
been born in the mind of Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Dunlop Swinton on a dusty French road in October of 1914 had finally borne full fruit. It
IN THE NUCLEAR
The Future World War
ended in the shadow of two mushroom clouds tower-
ing over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
two atomic bombs, dropped from American aircraft, ushered in the Nuclear Age. With it came the question of what weapons will be effective and useful under the vastly different conditions imposed by such a powerful new explosive force. The question, as far as armor is concerned, appears to have already been answered. Not only has the United States produced a series of excellent new tanks since World War II, but it has also vastly increased the number of tracked and armored vehicles in plosion
for this increased
on armor, which has brought with it a massive step-up in both mobility and firepower, is the conviction that the tank has many built-in advantages on the nuclear battlefield. By its very nature it provides considerable protection from the blast and fire storm effects of a nuclear explosion. It also can proreliance
vide a protected
of crossing highly radioactive areas that
have been hit by nuclear weapons. And it can continue to maneuver and fight in such situations while other troops are forced to dig in and avoid contaminated areas. In addition, armor still retains its well-established ability to fight under conditions in which nuclear weapons are not used. The American commitment to the use of armor for many years into the future is best illustrated by the cooperative effort launched by the United States and West Germany to design and develop a new Main Battle Tank of the 1970's, with each nation sharing the cost. The appearance and details of construction of this new tank, how it will be armed, and how it will fight are, of course, carefully guarded secrets, as they should be. Such information would be of
Tanks and Armor
great value to enemies of the two Western powers in preparing a
defense to counter the threat of the
tank, or in building an
equally good or even better tank of their own. However,
formation on the program has been released and the subject has been publicly discussed in general terms.
announced by the U.S. Department of De-
fense on August 29, 1963. Major General Welborn G. Dolvin of the U.S. Materiel
Command was named
1939 graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and a decorated veteran of tank combat in World War II and the Korean War. Dr. Fritz Engelmann was named by West Germany to be its program manager and counterpart to General Dolvin. On July 23, 1964, the Defense Department disclosed that the two governments had agreed upon the military characteristics that the tank must have, and that each would name a private contractor to assist in its development. General Motors Corporation was selected for this role in the United States under a projected for the United States. Dolvin is a
the task of partici-
pating in developing the concept of the tank and helping to select component parts. The corporation was directed to "prepare de-
determine engineering spec-
tailed designs, fabricate test vehicles,
and recommend techniques for mass production." This was followed on June 2, 1965, with an announcement that Germany and the United States had agreed upon a single design concept for the tank. The announcement said that the design provided for a great improvement in "tank fire power, mobihty, and protection" but gave no further details. Only a few other fragments of information about the tank have been made pubHc. A Defense Department official, at a briefing for newsmen, said it was quite possible that the MBT/70, as it has come to be known, might be armed with either a missile or gun or a combination of both. Many materials other than steel have been studied for use as the tank's basic armor plate, he acknowledged in answering questions. And he expressed doubt that the tank would be amphibious. At another point the official stated: "There's no question about it that this is a tank. It isn't an this will carry armor armored reconnaissance vehicle We're hoping to its concept is that of a main battletank. involves not this and tanks present improve the mobility of our ifications,
The Future making
four times heavier, so this
areas of endeavor
to try to
going to be one of the main
hold the weight
maintain the armor protection and improve the mobility." The release of such information about the project has raised
Will the tank have a
type of rocket for
have both a rocket and a large but standard-type tank gun, or will it have a weapon never before mentioned to the pubUc? Will this rocket and/or gun be capable of firing a nuclear warhead? Has a new type of plastic been developed that is better than steel for use as armor plate and wWi it be used on the tank either in combination with steel or in place of steel? If so would this provide the great saving in weight that had been hinted at in the
information released so far? Will the tank have the ability to skim or possibly
on cushions of
over land and water,
be equipped with the con-
ventional tracks of present-day tanks?
Will the tank be sealed against the entry of poisonous chemicals
and germs that might be used in gas or bacteriological warfare? Will it have some special means of protecting the crew against atomic radiation on the nuclear battlefield? Will it carry its own oxygen supply and air-filtering system to counter the effects of any or
of these poisonous substances?
While no answers time
to these questions
can be made public at this and hundreds
of the above possibiUties,
more, have been considered and subjected to intensive study in developing the tank. For the MBT/70, when it finally appears, will be the end product of a new procedure the American Army has estabhshed to overcome many of the mistakes that have been made in the past in developing weapons and tactics for using them. This
basically very simple. It calls for
( 1 )
the nation's military goals at the very highest levels of government; and then (2) assigning to a new Army unit the task of
developing the tactics, equipment, and organization that will it
possible to achieve these goals.
new and very vital unit Command, with headquarters This
Army Combat Developments
at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. It was created in 1962 and in very simplified form has been given the
task of answering three questions:
Army fight? 255
Tanks and Armor
How should How should
Army be equipped? Army be organized?
Combat Developments Command will do exactly Germans did between World War I and World War II. During that period Germany assigned to its best military minds the task of determining why Germany lost in World War I, and what could be done to prevent this from happening again. The first conclusion reached, as explained in Chapter VI, was that GerIn effect, the
many's lack of sea power, her geographical position, and scarcity of certain essential resources
absolutely necessary that
a military machine that would bring a quick
decision in any future war. In trying to find a this strategic goal the
to carry out
inevitably led to very inten-
sive studies of the results achieved in the British tank attack at
Cambrai in 1917. These studies in turn led to development of the armored division and the tactics of lightning warfare or blitzkrieg that were such an overwhelming success in the early years of World War II So, in a highly oversimplified sense, the Combat Developments Command might be caUed a "think" factory that is attempting to make sure that the Army is preparing to fight the next war instead of the last one.
with the very notable exception of Germany something entirely new. At the beginning of the Civil War, both sides had the rifled musket which placed in the hands of every soldier the abihty to fire with much greater accuracy than ever before. But neither the Union Command nor the Confederates understood the impact of this new capability on their methods of warfare. They used the same battlefield tactics that Napoleon did at the beginning of the nineteenth century, in which soldiers advanced almost shoulder to shoulder and still fired their muskets in volleys by organized groups. This controlled group firing was designed to overcome the lack of accuracy of the then unrifled musket. A group of soldiers firing together could lay down a heavy shotgun-like pattern of musket balls on a target and thus be certain For most nations
of hitting something.
the rifled musket appeared, the increased accuracy
were advancing in massed formations. The logical answer was to spread out the advancing soldiers in what later came to be known as
possible to kill
soldiers, particularly if they
— The Future
tactics." This is something both Confederate and Union forces presumably would have known had they had a Combat Developments Command. They would have been ready to fight their war instead of Napoleon's war. Again in World War I, it is interesting to note that the British were still using almost a form of massed, semi-close-order battle-
time of the Battle of the Somme, despite the appearance by that time of a weapon even more deadly than the
field tactics at the
machine gun. In that major attack of July
make progress until thousands wounded and the survivors had banded
1916, they did not begin to
smaller units and began advancing by rushes, with
plenty of open space between the groups continuing the assault.
Again a Combat Developments Command would surely have led the British to adopt at an earlier date a much more open form of infantry advance, plus other tactics to counter the machine gun perhaps even to the invention of the tank long before it appeared. Certainly all of the evidence that would lead to such conclusions had been available for many years. The Catling gun, which was
machine gun, was in existence at the time War, and the belt-fed machine gun played a
the predecessor of the of America's Civil
role in the Russo-Japanese
the case of the British, French,
and Americans who failed to understand the impact of armor and the airplane on combat. They were the principal victors in World War I, but all three of these nations were far behind in the development of tactics and battlefield formations built around these two weapons when World War II erupted. The Germans, who had done their homework between the two world wars, had studied the potential of armor and aircraft and had taken steps to be ready to use them to maximum advantage and did so. So now the United States, by creating the Combat Developments
taken a necessary step to
never placed at such a disadvantage again. It wants to be prepared to fight a possible next war which may well be a nuclear conflict if an all-out war develops instead of being ready to fight with
only the conventional weapons and tactics of World
this assignment, the Combat Developments Combegin by keeping a very close check on all scientific
developments which might have application in the military
Tanks and Armor This information are developed is
funneled into the
ideas are developed independently
placed under intensive examination and undergoes considerable
Most quickly fall by the wayside and prove to be of little some stand up under continued study and testing, and
eventually they find their
of U.S. military
equipment, or organization. that is, In attempting to determine how the Army will fight what tactics it will use the Combat Developments Command conducts studies which apply to different periods of time in the future. These include studies on how the Army will fight today, how it tactics,
will fight five years
from now, ten years from now, and on into
the future at least twenty-five years ahead.
In the case of the
of the 1970's,
stated with reasonable accuracy that the procedure
Combat Developments Command
can be for the
examine every shred of
formation it could obtain on expected developments in warfare during the decade from 1970 to 1980, arrive at a general conclusion that a new, highly advanced tank might be needed during this period, then devise the guidelines of what this tank would have to be able to do and how it would be used. The next step was for Major General Dolvin to take this information and begin to develop a tank to meet these requirements. The final step, which has not been even publicly discussed yet, is how the Army will be
make use the
battle tank of the 1980's, 1990's, or
very possible that a main
even further into the future
But, to return to the present,
should be pointed out that even
before the Combat Developments Command was created in 1962 it was clearly evident that both the United States and the Soviet Union had given considerable thought to the impact of nuclear weapons on modern warfare. It was also quite apparent that both had arrived at the conclusion that armor would play an even more important role in future combat than it has in the past. The very strong trend in both armies is toward the use of many more
armored and tracked vehicles of much greater firepower, speed, and range than ever before. In the United States Army, the most important new armored weapons developed after World War II have included the 49.5-ton
mounting a 90-millimeter gun; the 60.5-ton M103 with sometimes referred to as a 120-millimeter gun; the 51-ton M60 the "Main Battle Tank of the 1960's" with a 105-millimeter gun; the fully enclosed Ml 13 armored personnel carrier; a new armored reconnaissance vehicle called the "General Sheridan" and a con-
number of tracked, self-propelled guns. tanks— M48, M103, and M60— are
powered by 750 to 825 horsepower range, a great step-up over the 300 to 500 horsepower range used in World War II. The Army has also taken steps to increase the firepower of two of the three tanks. The M60, already a very powerful, fully mod-
air-cooled. Continental, 12-cylinder, V-type engines in the
and wide-tracked vehicle, is to be converted into a highly advanced armored weapon by addition of a new turret equipped
to fire a
152-millimeter missile called the Shillelagh as well as conmake the M60 the
ventional ammunition. This, in effect, will
tank equipped with a missile as its main weapon. The change will also give the tank a lower silhouette, improved armor protection, and a greatly stepped-up increase in the range world's
and impact of its firepower. It has been suggested in some newspaper speculation that the Shillelagh will also be the main weapon on the new Main Battle Tank of the 1970's and this seems as good a guess as any. It is already known that it will be the main weapon on the new General Sheridan reconnaissance vehicle, which is a most remarkable piece of equipment in its own right. The General Sheridan is designed for reconnaissance use by both armor and infantry and as an assault and antitank weapon for airborne troops and other combined arms teams. It can be airdropped and is capable of swimming across open areas of water at 3.8 miles per hour. On land it can speed along at up to forty miles per hour with fine crosscountry mobility. This has been made possible to a large extent by the use of such hght materials as aluminum, titanium, magnesium, and plastics which have kept the weight of the vehicle down. Finally, as an offshoot of the modernization of the M60, the M48 tanks are also to be improved. The turrets removed from the M60's will be placed on M48's, giving them the advantage of a 105-millimeter gun in place of their present 90-milLimeter. Parallel with this American armored development, the Russians 259
Tanks and Armor too have turned out
the T-54, which It is
tanks of considerable importance.
the well-designed successor of the
lower than the T-34, has improved sloping surfaces to deflect
enemy fire, thicker armor, and is equipped with a 100-millimeter gun. The Russians have also produced a new heavy tank that is the successor to the Joseph Stalin III. It has a powerful 122-millimeter gun and again demonstrates the Soviet genius for having
only angled surfaces to present to
Of perhaps more significance, though, direction modern armaments are taking,
guns. in indicating the future
the fact that the Rus-
hke the Americans, have produced new tracked armored personnel carriers for moving infantry into or even through areas of the heaviest type of fighting. In fact, an open discussion among sians,
has come to the surface in some of their pubwhether these new Soviet personnel carriers
are merely a means of transporting armored infantry troops or whether they are actually a fighting vehicle. The indicated conclu-
that they will be considered a fighting vehicle
infantry will stay
as long as possible. This
and that the
deeper penetrations with armor will be possible because the infantry, riding in their for a
ditions to finally take to the
can stay up with the tanks
greater distance before being forced by battlefield con-
fight as ordinary infantry.
the major trend that can be seen here
is the vastly increased mobility of Soviet assault formations. This increased mo-
on back through the follow-up troops in the form and fully motorized Soviet infantry divisions. So Soviet troops on the offensive or defensive, too, for that matter can move much faster than before. bility is carried
of a wide variety of self-propelled guns
The same development, of course, is clearly evident in the American armed forces. The tracked, fully enclosed, armored in-
M113 has already been mentioned, so have the new and more adequately powered tanks and the great fantry personnel carrier
numbers of new self-propelled guns. The trend is even more evident in the revolutionary
(Air Mobile) Division the United States has sent into combat in
Vietnam. While this unit the only one of its kind in the world is completely divorced from the subject of armored development, it is the most extreme example in existence of the greatly
increased emphasis on mobility in
infantry division that can be carried into battle quickly aboard helicopters
upon contact with the ground.
most needed, ready
very hkely that such air assault
troops will be used in most
The same idea
of the future.
of great mobility has been built into the U.S.
armored cavalry regiments of today. They are equipped to move not only much faster than the armored cavalry that was used in World War II, but to carry with them much greater firepower. Armored cavalry is assigned such missions as being an advance, flank or rear guards; advance, flank or rear covering forces; a security force in rear areas or various types of screening forces.
was soon learned after World War II that armored cavalry would have to have more combat power in the form of tanks and artillery, and this was provided. The result has been one of the most versatile of American fight-
properly conduct such operations
ing units, exemplified particularly by the armored cavalry formations that have been set up in Europe. They would be the first units
meet any attack by the Russians there. In these specialized groups, the Western democracies have extreme mobility, the ability to get any place they are needed fast. They have versatility, the
ability to operate either in
type of screening force, or
a reconnaissance role, as a trip-wire necessary to stand and fight with the
powerful tanks and armored infantry
built into their
This increased emphasis on mobility has been imposed on both the American and Soviet armies by the impact of the nuclear age. It is
based on the belief that while there may be whether future wars will include exchanges of inter-
at least partly
continental missiles, there
greater likelihood that tacti-
— atomic weapons will be used.
Consequently, because of the terrible blast effect of these explosions, tomorrow's battle formations must be more dispersed, more open, more spread out, so that fewer persons will be killed by any single nuclear strike. Thus, if troops must be scattered over greater areas of ground, it becomes even more important that they be able to move cal
over these greater distances
In such circumstances there seems to be will continue to be
doubt that armor
an important weapon of the future. 261
Tanks and Armor Major General Dolvin, the key
man in developing
of the 1970's, fully agrees, saying:
"The atomic age has
given added emphasis to armor."
And the Armor Force School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, states: 'The tank is, and probably will remain within this decade, the dominant ground assault weapon with the greatest battlefield survivability ... its armor provides protection against effects of nuclear weapons and enables it to traverse contaminated areas without exposing the crew to harmful doses of radiation in defense against nuclear attack or in exploitation of nuclear support in the offense."
These are the main, and very important, testimonials favoring It has been pointed out that many weapons and branches of the service in the past have been made obsolete by the development of new weapons. The horse cavalry is gone. So is the battleship. Why not the tank? Some new and very deadly weapons have been devised the future use of armor. There are skeptics of course.
to use against
a shoulder-fired 66-millimeter rocket that
grenades and antitank rocket launchers of has been described by a competent authority in this
"Rocket and launcher are packed as a unit. After the rocket has fired, the launcher can be discarded. As packed, the launcher
is short and compact, but before firing, a movable section is extended to an overall length of thirty-five inches. This allows enough burning distance for the rocket and protects the firer. There is no recoil. The projectile, about 2.36 inches in diameter, is of the hollow-charge type and highly effective against armor. Its range is 250 yards and it weighs only 4.5 pounds." Another new antitank weapon is entitled TOW, standing for the first letters of its principal characteristics: Tube-launched, Optic ally- tracked, Wire-guided. It can be fired from the ground or mounted on vehicles and is being developed for use by the infantry
in fighting tanks.
The main feature
transmitted over fine wires
payed out by the projectile in flight. This means that if a tank can be seen, or if its camouflaged location is known, the missile can be guided right to the designated target. This gives the firer the ability to
corrections while the missile
The Future These, of course, are
ons, but the weight of evidence
enough and the
Armor potentially very deadly
against their becoming effective
send the tank into oblivion alongside the horse cavalry one thing, it is obvious from the very proc-
esses used in developing the
of the 1970's that
such weapons have had to be considered. It is also quite possible that armor, or combinations of armor and new types of other protective materials, have been developed that will provide protection
from many types of
sources are so convinced of the continued use of tanks
far into the future that they have suggested that tanks may one day fly and become part of an airborne assault force that will swoop down and soften up the landing area before the main units arrive on troop-carrying rockets. This, of course, is something that will have to be left to the science fiction writers for the present. In the meantime, the future use of tanks and armor in modern warfare seems assured for many years to come.
Index A7V tanks,
65, 67, 68 Aerial photography, 1 Africa, in Worid War
Spanish Civil War, 92, 93, 108 Stalin tanks, 199,260 StaUngrad, battle of, 181-199 Steam -powered armored vehicles, 6 Stem, Albert G., 38 Storey, Charles, 35-36 Stumme, Gen., 165 Submarine bases, in World War I,