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1ST LIEUTENANT H. F. HILLENMEYER, Commander, Company "H", 1st Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. (Platoon Leader, Company "H", during battles of Faid Pass, Rebaou, Sidi bou Zid.) 1 March 1943.
Sir, if we're going to get anywhere, we must put greater emphasis on good reconnaissance. I know of one instance where we went into battle not knowing what was there. We saw the enemy tanks go into Faid Pass and that night we had a dry run back in our concentration area. Next day when the attack came off we found the thing was a blind — the Pass was covered with deadly antitank stuff. It plastered our one company that went in.
The Germans always seem to know what's there before they attack. They use
air-photo reconnaissance. For several days before an attack we can set our
watches by the
Those 88-mm guns have been causing us trouble because it's hard for us to knock them out with our flat trajectory weapons. They're dug in too deeply and we need real artillery support with good observation to root them out.
When you fire on the German tanks, they play a bag of tricks. First they stop, causing you to think you knocked them out. When you turn around on something else — wham! they open up on you.
As a platoon leader, I learned that you've got to lead your men. When you get out in front, they'll follow you easily. If you're moving in sections, the platoon leader must go in the forward section. And what's almost as important is the fact that every man must know what's going on. You've got to take them into your confidence and explain the show to them. They'll always respond with better fighting.
You've probably heard this too, before, sir — but the smaller units are simply not given enough time to prepare their individual plan of attack or maneuver. Higher headquarters should realize that we need some time to get the show running.
It would really be worth the time, over in the States, for the men to shoot at night with tracer bullets. The Germans use all tracers and sometimes they raise hell with the troops. Tracers throw a helluva scare into you anyhow; every one looks as if it's headed straight for you. The Germans are cracker-jacks at night fighting — our men need more training in it.
In a scrap we throw high explosive stuff until the enemy comes in range and then we change to armor piercing. Sometimes we set the high explosive for delay, fire low, and watch the Germans duck wildly as it ricochets over the ground.
I'm also concerned, sir, with another question of tactics which is probably none of my business. But we had always been taught that the Germans attacked at dawn or in the early morning light. Actually, however, they're even more apt to hit at dusk with only half an hour of light left in the sky, just to confuse you. Then they'll throw everything they have at you — including their star shells and Very lights — in an attempt to put you on the run.
We don't fire on planes until they start firing. If we did, we would have had the Stukas on our necks every time.
It's extremely important that we keep our star markings. Several times we were about to open fire on our own tanks, until we saw their markings.
One day an
'Shut the door', the driver screamed to the man in the turret, 'there's tracers coming in down here!'
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SERGEANT BASKEM BENNETT, Tank Commander, Company "H", 1st Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division, 1 March 1943.
I almost lost my driver and assistant driver once when the tank caught fire as the turret was turned to the rear position. They were able to get out only when another man in my crew jumped back in the burning tank and turned the turret, allowing these two to get away.
No sir, I have not used any smoke as yet, although it might be OK against one of those big Mark VI's.
(Asked to give an account of his experiences in the battle of Faid Pass, Sergeant Bennett continued:)
We had started across the field, sir, when suddenly ten German tanks came up on our flank. They opened up on me and hit me three or four times before they came through. Meanwhile we were firing continually.
About that time two 77-mm shells went through the turret and I discovered that my tank was on fire. I called down to the driver and radio man, but they must have been hit, because they didn't answer. The tank was burning badly now so I jumped out with the remainder of my crew. Our tank was burning yet, but it just kept going forward, and we jumped into a ditch and watched it go.
Soon we were surrounded by German tanks. We lay in the ditch for several hours until one of the German tanks started toward us. We thought he was going to run us down so we stood up with our hands over our heads. The German officer in the tank spoke good English. He asked me where our side-arms were and we told him we didn't have any.
He asked where our carrier was and we pointed to our tank which had traveled several hundred yards down the field before burning out completely.
The German officer then pointed towards our lines and told us to go so we took off quickly.
All together we fired about 20 shells. We hit two tanks and I know one was really knocked out because I saw it go up in flames.
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SERGEANT JAMES H. BOWSER, Tank Commander, Company "H", 1st Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division, 1 March 1943.
Yes sir, this is my third tank but I've still got all of my original crew with me. We were burned out of our other two tanks under fire.
Our ammunition supply has been good — we've always gotten the stuff we needed although we had to quit our two tanks long before we used up our ammunition. A tank commander has got to remember that he can knock the track off a Mark IV long before he can hit it with armor piercing ammunition. The high explosive ammunition might be OK against the Mark VI's, but we always saw too many of them to give it much of a try.
The Germans usually open up with their machine guns while they're ranging you in with their heavier stuff. The driver can tell when they're coming close so he keeps moving and ducks them. I hardly ever talk to my driver in battle — I just let him keep driving. We always stopped to shoot but we did turn the stabilizer on when we were moving. I guess the stabilizer's all right for what it was built.
The gunnery instruction they gave us in the States was good. No sir, I wouldn't change it. There's just one thing you must remember when you're fighting Germans. When you shoot at them they stop and try to kid you into thinking you knocked them out. Then when you turn your back on them, they open up again. Sir, we shoot until they stop and then keep shooting until they burn up.
Sometimes we've attacked with the sun in our eyes and that makes it pretty tough on the gunner. He can't see where he's shooting while the Germans sit back there and pop anywhere they want to.
I think, sir, that if you trained a battalion of infantry to operate at night, they could slip into a German tank park and really raise hell. One night after we were burned out of our tank during action, we made our way to within 30 yards of a parked tank, thinking it was an Arab hut. They don't seem to worry about security at night.
It's a good idea, too, to check your ammunition closely. Once I had to climb out of a tank during an action to ram a bent shell case out of my gun, and then hurry back in before the machine guns got me.
(Asked to give an account of his experiences in the battle of Faid Pass, Sergeant Bowser continued:)
I'm on the right of my platoon leader and he's in the center. I've got another tank on my right. We start in at daylight, move down the Pass between the mountain and the marsh, and pretty soon at nine o'clock we run into the Germans. They started in with their machine guns but we just let it rattle by and then they opened up with their heavy stuff. I looked to the center and saw the lieutenant's tank go up in fire. So I turned my gun on the antitank gun that knocked him out and smashed it with my first shot of high explosive ammunition. We knew that it was really hot; nine of our tanks had been cleaned out. They knocked my track off but I said, 'Hell, we'll sit here and use her as a pillbox.'
Then one of my boys said our tank was burning. I didn't know how long it had been on fire. Still the fire didn't look too bad, so we stuck by our guns and kept shooting until an explosion almost rocked us out of the tank. One of my crew was wounded but the others were all right, so we took off towards our own lines. We walked for two hours and carried the wounded man with us. Several times along the way German airplanes strafed us.
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