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FM 18-5: Organization and Tactics of Tank Destroyer Units
Tank Destroyer Field Manual, War Department, June 16, 1942
[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from a WWII U.S. War Department Field Manual. As with all field manuals, the text may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the contents of the field manual. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


Section I

• 32. GENERAL.—Tank destroyer commanders meet their responsibilities by intelligent anticipation, timely decisions, plans and orders, and supervision of execution. Haste in execution cannot make up for time lost through lack of planning. The necessary preparations for combat, including reconnaissance, the formulation and issue of orders, the movement of troops into assembly areas or positions in readiness, and arrangements for supply and communication, so far as possible are carried on concurrently. Warning orders permit subordinates to make timely preparations in anticipation of final orders. Rapidity of maneuver is not attained by neglecting essential steps in the organization of combat action.

• 33. ESTIMATE OF SITUATION—A tank destroyer commander engages his unit according to a definite plan based upon an estimate of the situation. (See FM 101-5.) During active operations, this estimate is constantly being formulated and revised in accordance with the latest information of the enemy, the situation of the unit, the terrain in its vicinity, and other pertinent factors. A tank destroyer commander must always he prepared to commit his unit to prompt action.

• 34. PERSONAL RECONNAISSANCE.—The personal reconnaissance of a tank destroyer commander must be executed rapidly; usually little time will be available because of the speed with which tank destroyer units operate: Before starting he should know where he is going, what he Is looking for, the time available, and the route to be taken. Aimless reconnaissance without specific purpose or direction is usually of slight value.

• 35. ORDERS.—a. Simplicity, brevity, and rapidity of issue and distribution characterize orders in tank destroyer units. Formal written orders are exceptional. The order initiating an operation should be as complete as the situation permits; subsequent instructions usually consist of brief fragmentary orders and messages, usually transmitted by radio.

b. When the utmost speed is required, a few words transmitted by radio are used to assign initial combat missions. Frequently this is done in a brevity code. At times the order may consist merely of a code word directing execution of a prearranged maneuver.

c. Transmission of oral orders may be facilitated in the preliminaries of battle by the assembly of subordinates to receive instructions; during combat such procedure is seldom 'practicable or advisable.

d. When time permits oral orders are issued methodically. Notes prepared by a commander insure that no essential item is omitted. An operations map or sketch issued to subordinates just prior to issuance of the order often facilitates understanding of information and instructions. When not pressed for time, the commander, before commencing his order, thoroughly orients his subordinates on the ground or on the map or sketch. Having completed the orientation, the commander commences the oral order, speaking slowly enough to permit the taking of notes. He frames his order as nearly as practicable with the same directness, brevity, and sequence as observed in written orders. He excludes details which are not essential to the mission of subordinates and which burden their memory and attention. Having completed the order, the commander invites questions, and answers them with patience and thoroughness. When mutual understanding is complete, watches are synchronized. The subordinate who receives an oral order records as much of it as is necessary under the circumstances. Brief notes and marks on a map or sketch usually suffice.

e. A complete combat order may contain the following:

(1) (a) Enemy Information.—Emphasize the latest identifications of tanks and aircraft and reports of movements of tanks and other armored vehicles.

(b) Information of our own and supporting troops.—Location and proposed employment of friendly troops. Identification of friendly tanks operating in the vicinity. Missions and locations of nearby antitank weapons, and of adjacent and supporting units. Locations of mines and natural and artificial obstacles.

(2) Mission of unit.—Indicate the objective, or the troops, installations, or terrain feature to be protected. Include such of the following as are required: time and direction of advance; zone of action; dispositions; limit of pursuit; route; time of departure; order of march for movement into initial positions.

(3) (a) Mission of subordinate elements.—Assign to each its combat task indicating such of the following as are necessary: objective; initial position; direction of movement; combat area; primary, alternate, and supplementary positions; sectors of fire; special reconnaissance or security missions; Instructions regarding contact with friendly troops.

(b) Miscellaneous.—Indicate conditions under which fire is to be opened, rallying position, and alternate rallying position.

(4) Administrative details.—Arrangements for ammunition, fuel, and rations; location of aid stations or nearby medical establishments; instructions for maintenance elements.

(5) Details regarding communications.—Warning service; location of command post; prearranged signals; instructions regarding the use of radio.

f. Each tank destroyer commander passes on promptly to his subordinates fragmentary orders or information concerning the foregoing items when it is impracticable for him to issue a combined order.

g. For further data in regard to combat orders, see FM 101-5.


• 36. TACTICAL ALLOCATION.—a. The allocation of tank destroyer units to subdivisions of a major force will vary with circumstances. Factors that must be considered for such allocations are—

(1) Mission of the major force, and its subdivisions.

(2) Means available to the opposing forces, particularly the strength in armored elements.

(3) Conditions in the theater of operations, including terrain.

(4) Probable and possible future action.

b. In general, sufficient tank destroyer strength to meet their usual needs is distributed among divisions, while much stronger forces are assigned to higher units. A typical allocation might be—

(1) With each infantry, cavalry, armored, or motorized division: one tank destroyer battalion.

(2) With each army corps: one or more tank destroyer groups, each consisting of three or more tank destroyer battalions and reinforcing elements of the arms and services.

(3) With each field army: several similar groups.

(4) Under the theater commander awaiting assignment to task forces or allotment to armies: several groups.

This allocation facilitates the rapid massing of tank destroyer units as demanded by the situation and lends itself to the expeditious forming of special task forces as their need develops. It presents increasingly powerful resistance to the progress of any hostile attack.

c. The employment of the tank destroyer units is included in the general plan of action of the force to which they are allocated. Initially tank destroyer units are usually held in concealed positions far enough to the rear to permit employment anywhere over a wide zone of action. They are moved, preferably under cover of darkness, to the area selected for their engagement as the situation develops.

• 37. EMPLOYMENT.—Tank destroyer units are employed offensively in large numbers, by rapid maneuver, and by surprise.

• 38. OFFENSIVE ACTION.—Offensive action allows the entire strength of a tank destroyer unit to be engaged against the enemy. For individual tank destroyers, offensive action consists of vigorous reconnaissance to locate hostile tanks and movement to advantageous positions from which to attack the enemy by fire. Tank destroyers avoid "slugging matches" with tanks, but compensate for their light armor and difficulty of concealment by exploitation of their mobility and superior observation.

• 39. MASS.—The employment of tank destroyer units will be in mass. The battalion is the smallest unit which should be engaged separately. Employment of small tank destroyer units as independent defensive elements and their distribution with a view to covering every possible avenue of tank approach or to affording immediate protection to all echelons of the forces leads to uncoordinated action and dispersion with consequent loss of effectiveness.

• 40. MANEUVER.—a. Rapidity of maneuver enables tank destroyer units to strike at vital objectives, fight on selected terrain, exercise pressure from varied and unexpected directions, and bring massed fire to bear in decisive areas. Tank destroyer units obtain results from rapidity and flexibility of action rather than by building up strongly organized positions. Tank destroyers depend for protection not on armor, but on speed and the use of cover and terrain. When maneuvering in the presence of the enemy they habitually move at the greatest speed permitted by the terrain.

b. Rapidity of maneuver of large tank destroyer units is attained as much through thoroughness of anticipatory planning and reconnaissance and the efficient functioning of communications as through the inherent speed of tank destroyer vehicles.

c. Effective use of tank destroyer mobility is predicated upon road priorities, use of reserved roads, and effective cooperation by military police in the combat zone. As in the case of a fire department, the way must be cleared for tank destroyers when the time for action arrives.

• 41. SURPRISE.—a. Tank destroyer units attain surprise by concealment of the time and place of their action, screening of dispositions, rapidity of maneuver, deception, and occasional adoption of unorthodox procedure.

b. Decoying the enemy into ambushes is characteristic of tank destroyer tactics. Attacks with the sun in the eyes of the enemy favor surprise and marksmanship.

• 42. FIRE AND MOVEMENT.—a. Tank destroyers act by a combination of fire and movement to reduce hostile opposition. Movement of maneuvering elements is protected by the fire of other elements in position. The purpose of the maneuver is to gain positions that permit still more effective fire on the enemy. At the same time movement serves to protect tank destroyers from hostile fire. This method of attack is applicable to all elements of tank destroyer forces.

b. The fire from the primary gun of a moving tank destroyer is inaccurate. The tank destroyer halts and fires from suitable positions. Duration of occupation of any one position is brief. Obtaining a hit on the first shot is of critical importance. Fire is as rapid as accuracy permits.

• 43. TERRAIN.—a. The employment of tank destroyer units must be based on a careful study of the ground. Commanders of larger tank destroyer units plan their maneuver so as to act on chosen ground. The terrain selected should afford ample maneuver room to permit full advantage to be taken of the mobility of their vehicles.

b. Advance in the presence of the enemy must be conducted so as to avoid encountering the enemy while on unfavorable terrain or in unsuitable dispositions.

• 44. INITIATIVE.—a. The rapid developments of mechanized combat require maximum initiative on the part of all tank destroyer personnel. Commanders will often be confronted with the problem of making an immediate decision and initiating prompt action. Decisions made should be in general conformity with the intentions of the commander; it is essential, therefore, that all be informed of those intentions.

b. In the absence of orders and when consistent with their mission, tank destroyer units sent into areas where tanks do not appear assist adjacent units which are engaged, or seek tanks reported in nearby areas. Their action is reported at the earliest opportunity. (See par. 85a.)

• 45. SIMPLICITY.—Diversity of tank destroyer armament and the rapidity with which units must operate require assignment of definite functions to varied elements to expedite and simplify tactical operations. Familiarity of a unit with a limited number of relatively definite tactical procedures permits it to meet the majority of situations advantageously without excluding modification appropriate to the particular situation.

• 46. SECURITY.—Regardless of security measures provided by other troops, tank destroyer units habitually provide all-around security for themselves against both ground and air forces.

• 47. WARNING SERVICE.—The efficient operation of a tank warning service which transmits rapidly to tank destroyer commanders information as to the strength, location, and direction of movement of hostile tanks is essential (See ch. 11.)

• 48. RECONNAISSANCE.—a. Due to the large areas involved in tank destroyer operations, reconnaissance begins early and is continuous and extensive. Reconnaissance by tank destroyer personnel is primarily intended to insure the advantageous entry into battle and effective combat action of their own unit. Alternate plans of action, based on reconnaissance, provide for movement to and occupation of concealed initial positions, corresponding to each plan.

b. Great economy of reconnaissance personnel must be exercised in the earlier stages of operations. The main reconnaissance effort for tank destroyer units will always be made during combat and while tank destroyer units are advancing to contact, in order to permit the tank destroyer commander to make suitable dispositions for the movement of his command and for its engagement. Sufficient reconnaissance forces must be held in hand for this emergency and not prematurely dissipated. The assistance of observation aviation during this period is of the greatest importance.

• 49. ELASTICITY.—Methods of employment of tank destroyer units must be highly elastic and will vary to meet and counter the tank tactics of hostile forces.

• 50. DECENTRALIZATION.—Combat action of tank destroyer units is characterized by decentralization. Responsibility for combat tasks is fixed by assignment of simple missions in accomplishing which the subordinate has great freedom of action. Frequent alterations of original missions or assignments of entirely new tasks are to be expected.

• 51. DEPTH.—Tank destroyer units, down to and including companies, usually hold out a reserve initially to exploit advantages gained in the first contacts or to meet flanking or encircling action of attacking tank units. Platoons are usually disposed in depth with rear elements covering the flanks of more advanced elements.

• 52. FRONTAGES.—a. The methods of tank destroyer employment do not require rigid assignment of areas or frontages; where such assignment is made, it usually contemplates initial or temporary occupation only.

b. Where tank destroyer units are assigned, through necessity, large areas of frontages for occupation, such areas or frontages are held by holding a unit under control in a central location or by leaving gaps between subordinate elements, rather than by extending the usual intervals between guns. Cordon dispositions are avoided. When engaged against a powerful opponent, a company will not usually occupy an area wider than 1000 yards. In contact operations against small forces, such concentration is not essential.

• 53. AVOIDANCE OF ALINEMENT.—Tank destroyer units make no attempt to maintain alinement with adjacent tank destroyer or other units. Provision is made to protect exposed flanks; contact with adjacent units may be maintained by patrols. Disposition of small groups in wedge or clusters facilitates readiness for action and adaptation to the terrain.

• 54. COOPERATION OF OTHER TROOPS.—Employment of tank destroyer units should be in close coordination with other troops. Calls for the assistance of other troops are made without hesitation when tank destroyers are confronted with situations with which they are not designed to cope. Maximum combat aviation support is particularly essential in fast-moving situations. Actions and dispositions of antitank units, artillery, and antiaircraft artillery strongly influence tank destroyer employment.

• 55. ATTACKS ON TANKS IN ASSEMBLY AREAS.—a. When hostile tank forces are known to be assembled within striking distance, tank destroyer units with the necessary reinforcements may make incursions within the hostile lines to strike at them. Opportunities most frequently result when the vicissitudes of combat create numerous salients and reentrants along the general front of contact. Such surprise attacks on tanks in bivouac or assembly positions are best accomplished late in the day or in early morning.

b. A blow at a large tank force sheltered behind hostile dispositions usually requires the action of a strong task force of all arms, including tank destroyer units, and involves a decision by higher commanders.

• 56. RECOVERY SYSTEM—Automatic functioning of a recovery system whereby disabled tank destroyers are promptly repaired on the battlefield is an important factor in maintaining the combat efficiency of units. During lulls in combat, tank destroyer commanders cause damaged vehicles to be towed to the nearest areas offering, cover, where repair operations are initiated without delay. (See FM 18-10.)


• 57. GENERAL.—Certain areas or positions utilized in tank destroyer combat are as follows:

Intermediate position and position in readiness.
Assembly position.
Fire position.
Cover position.
Rallying position.
Combat area.

Qualities which are desirable in most positions are ease of entry and egress, concealment from ground and air, defilade from hostile fire, space to allow sufficient dispersion, remoteness from areas likely to attract enemy fire such as cross roads and artillery positions, protection by natural or artificial obstacles, suitability for local defense, and shelter for personnel and maintenance activities. All-weather hard standings are desirable in all positions and necessary in the base park. Each of the above mentioned areas or positions is briefly discussed below.

a. Park.—A tank destroyer park is a locality in which a unit concentrates or from which it operates. During combat, personnel and matériel not actually engaged remain at the park, and administrative, supply, and maintenance services operate therefrom. The park should be beyond the effective range of enemy artillery.

b. Intermediate position.—An intermediate position between the park and the combat area may be utilized for the temporary halting and concealment of destroyers when required by the tactical or logistical situation (to approach a probable zone of employment during hours of darkness or to cross a defile). An intermediate position may also serve as a position in readiness. A position in readiness is a centrally located area where destroyers are concealed, alert to move quickly to meet a hostile threat. Everything possible to insure timely employment of destroyers is accomplished in advance, to include selection of routes to probable combat areas and, in some cases, selection of positions.

c. Assembly position.—An assembly position is one occupied by an organization preliminary to action against the enemy, for the distribution of orders and other final preparations before entering a combat area. The assembly position also is used for regaining control alter interruption of a march. The assembly position should be as close to the expected point of contact as the situation will permit. At times units may move directly from positions in readiness to combat without entering an assembly area.

d. Fire position.—Fire positions are occupied by destroyers in action to cover by fire an assigned sector or avenue of approach. Fire positions are primary, alternate, or supplementary. The primary fire position is the position from which a unit or weapon executes its primary mission. An alternate fire position is a position from which the same fire missions can be executed as from the primary fire position. A supplementary fire position is a fire position from which a destroyer can accomplish fire missions other than those to be accomplished from primary or alternate positions.

e. Cover position.—A cover position is one in the immediate vicinity of the fire position providing concealment and protection to weapons and crew. The cover position is used when adequate cover cannot be had at the fire position. The destroyer remains in the cover position until action is imminent, when it is quickly shifted to the fire position.

f. Rallying position.—A rallying position is a place, designated in advance by a unit commander, where he assembles his unit for further operations after an engagement. An alternate rallying position is a place, also designated in advance, where units assemble in case they are unable to reach the rallying position. The alternate rallying position is usually farther to the rear than the rallying position.

g. Combat area.—An area assigned to a destroyer unit within which it is to operate against hostile tanks.

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