MARK R. HENRY, MIKE CHAPPELLTHE
For identification purposes US vehicles were usually marked with prominent white stars; each theatre of operations had its own variation as to how these were to be applied. By 1944. GIs believed the stars, stripes and rings were too high profile and gave the enemy an aiming point, so these markings were commonly dirtied, reduced or painted over. For identification from the air high visibility coloured and shaped recognition panels and flags were used.
A semi-standardised system of unit number/letter bumper/hull markings was developed, using flat white stencilling. The standard order, seen from left to right facing the vehicle, was division-regiment- company-vehicle; the company letter and vehicle number were usually separated from the divisional and unit numbers. Armies used an 'A', artillery used 'F' or 'FA', infantry used 'I', Airborne used 'AB', headquarters used HQ', TDs used 'TD' and Armored units used a triangle. Thus e.g.: 751-2911 B6 would identify 75th Infantry Division. 291st Infantry Regiment. B Company, vehicle 6; and 82AB-505AB A2 identified 82nd Airborne Division, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. A Company, vehicle 2.
The M10 was the first TD vehicle specially designed for the AT mission. It mounted the M7 3in (75mm) naval gun, which could penetrate 3ins of steel at 1,000 yards - a more powerful weapon than the M3 75mm of the Sherman. The gun could fire HE, AP, canister and smoke. More than 7,000 of this 33-ton vehicle had been built when production stopped in late 1943. The workhorse of the TD units, it saw action in North Africa, Italy and throughout the ETO, and to a limited extent in the Pacific.
The M18 featured the same M1 76mm gun used by the up-graded Sherman, but Hellcat crews also had the use of effective High Velocity Armor Piercing ammunition with a tungsten carbide core. Over 2,500 M18s had been built when production ceased in late 1944. This 20-ton vehicle had a powerful 400hp engine, which could propel it at speeds in excess of 45mph. With its outstanding power/weight ratio and good gun, the M18 was the most effective US TD of the war, and the GIs loved it.
Germany, February 1945: beside a pile of discarded cardboard ammo packing tubes, a 75mm M8 HMC of an assault gun troop from 106th Cavalry Group lays down fire. Based on the M3/M5 Stuart hull, the open-topped M8 was assigned in small numbers to both recon units and tank unit HQ elements to deliver direct and indirect HE fire. Limited, but well liked, the M8 was replaced in 1945 by a 105mm howitzer Sherman which offered more punch and better protection.
Over 1,100 M36s were produced by retrofitting existing M10s with the powerful M3 90mm gun also used on the Pershing tank; interestingly, at 31 tons it weighed less than the M10. The first models reached the Normandy front in July 1944; offering a good chance of destroying Panthers and Tigers even at long range, the M36 finally gave the GIs something like an equal chance against the late model Panzers.
M10 Wolverine of a tank destroyer battalion, fitted with the 'Cullin device' for tearing a way through the massively banked hedgerows of Normandy. Again, note the piled sandbags; the M10's thin armour was no match for the main armament of the Panzers by 1944, and a single layer of sandbags was not going to help. Exposed by their open-top turret, the crew wear M1 steel helmets against the shrapnel of enemy air-bursts.
The shocking success of the German 1940 Blitzkrieg galvanised the US Army into planning a response. Liberally deployed anti-tank guns would theoretically hold enemy tanks in check, and wargames conducted in 1941 seemed to confirm this hypothesis. The doctrine evolved by the Army called for tank destroyer (TD) units to deal with enemy tanks while US tanks were used to support the infantry and serve as an exploitation force. Towed 37mm and 57mm AT guns were assigned to divisions and TD battalions; and the 75mm howitzer was expediently mounted on halftracks to increase mobility until the M10 TD arrived in sufficient numbers to serve as the self-propelled AT weapons platform.
The new TD doctrine was to play a key role in retarding the possible up-grades of the M4 Sherman; this tank was seen by the Ordnance theorists and by many generals as an infantry support and exploitation vehicle rather than a tank-killer. Thus offers by the Ordnance in 1943 to up-gun the M4 to 76mm or 90mm were refused as 'overkill'; up-grading the armour also seemed unnecessary, as the tank was supposed to manoeuvre around enemy tanks or wait for the TDs to deal with the problem.
The TD doctrine also influenced how the Army organised its divisions for combat. The majority of the numbered Tank Battalions and all the TD Battalions were to be independent units assigned at corps level, and deployed as the situation demanded. Infantry divisions had no integral tanks and only a handful of towed AT guns. Armoured divisions alone had integral tank units, as they were by nature break-through formations. Tank and especially TD battalions were usually farmed out within a division by companies or platoons; the TD group and battalion HQs were commonly redundant. The ETO solution was to all but permanently assign independent tank and TD battalions to the infantry divisions.
However well thought out this doctrine may have been, it did not seem to work. TD units were never numerous enough to cover where required, and were commonly undergunned. Their open-top turrets made them vulnerable to field artillery. The M10 and M36 were so thinly armoured that they could not stand in the open or advance and fight; they had to be very carefully handled, using 'bushwhacking' techniques to be most effective. Desperate commanders were forced to use the Sherman (sometimes suicidally mismatched) to stop enemy tank thrusts. Though TD units had been used with limited success in 1943, their reverses had been blamed on faulty deployment and shortages of the new M10. After D-Day the generals finally acknowledged the bankrupt nature of the TD doctrine. This resulted in a belated concentration on the development of new tanks, like the M26 Pershing, serious enough to take on the German Panthers and Tigers.
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