[Lone Sentry] [Lone Sentry: www.lonesentry.com]

Lone Sentry: Tankers in Tunisia: Part 6 [original pp. 31-35]


[intro. & contents]
Part 1
[original pp. 1-12]
Part 2
[original pp. 13-19]
Part 3
[original pp. 19-24]
Part 4
[original pp. 24-27]
Part 5
[original pp. 28-30]
Part 6
[original pp. 31-35]
Part 7
[original pp. 35-39]
Part 8
[original pp. 40-44]
Part 9
[original pp. 44-49]
Part 10
[original pp. 49-53]
Part 11
[original pp. 54-60]
[original pp. 61-62]


STAFF SERGEANT KERMIT JACKSON, Company "D", 2nd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, Krerouf, 11 April 1943.

I've picked up a lot of stuff that I didn't know when I came over here. The most important thing that I've learned is to keep in hull defilade at all times. You can't barrel-ass across open country. In Sidi bou Zid we had 8 tanks left in a wadi with me. The platoon leader gave orders to pull back. I decided to get back as fast as possible and barrel-assed back and got hit in the ass with an 88. If I had backed out I probably would have come out OK.

In a wadi, the company commander was looking for a place to cross. He found one, and 88-mm guns were waiting. They didn't use their armor piercing ammunition but used their high explosive ammunition. We all crossed in column. They didn't open up until the rear tank crossed, then opened with armor piercing shell. I never saw so much armor piercing. All tanks took off cross country and tried to outrun bullets, but couldn't run fast enough. I got in a hull defilade and saw nothing but fires. Every tank on high ground was burning.

Any time that 88-mm guns open up you can expect enemy tanks on your flanks, and you had better start backing up or they will follow a pincer movement about your flanks. Now we keep more of our tanks in reserve and on the flanks and we use the German 'cod-lock'. Cod-lock means a cinch. We pull it on them since they have caught us and we plan to use it on them in the future, too.

Here is what I mean by 'cod-lock'. In the battle of El Guettar we received a report of 70 tanks that were preparing to attack. We were all set. The field artillery was going to give them air burst. We were going to put some tanks out for decoy. We then were going to suck them through the pass by backing up through it. Back of the pass was a reverse slope that had tank destroyers on it, and back of them were a battalion of tanks, who were going to attack on the flanks, should they come through.

There was only one way, and that was through the pass. We kept playing about out of 88 fire and they started after us but wouldn't come through. We have learned the lesson and hope to teach the Germans a few of their own tricks.

When a tank catches fire, you come out any way you can. I came out the turret once, and not the escape door, as I was supposed to do. In that escape I think most of the men got out of the tank but didn't get back to our own lines. Men should be cautioned to go separately and not bunch up, as the Germans will machine gun you if you are bunched.

LIEUTENANT HOLTZMAN: Sergeant Jackson has received the silver star citation once and has been recommended a second time. In the second citation he gave help to a wounded man under heavy shell fire after safely maneuvering his tank to defilade the wounded man. If he had not backed the tank to help the wounded man he probably would not have been here now, as several shells fell where his tank had been.

The tank is the best slit trench in the world when shells or bombs are falling; I feel safe in it and stick close to it at all times.

I was commanding officer of my platoon in the last fight. The Germans let the platoon go through and started shelling me. They pick the leaders off first if possible. I saw their fire, and put out their gun position, but you can't find the guns unless you see the flashes. They usually camouflage their guns. They do a damn swell job of it.

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SERGEANT DECKER, Company "D", 1st Armored Regiment, Krerouf, 11 April 1943.

In our last position at Gabes Pass, I saw gun positions that had been tunneled 30 feet back in the rocks. They were still good after being shelled by 155's. After the capture of the position I had permission of the platoon commander to go in the area looking for German radio receivers. These excellent gun positions are not the rule, only when they have lots of time. Their general procedure is to mine gun positions so tanks can't come up to run over them.

LIEUTENANT LASELL, Company "D", 1st Armored Regiment, Krerouf, 11 April 1943.

That sand mound might be a good German gun position (he pointed to a sand mound 200 yards away); you couldn't see the gun from here.

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LIEUTENANT McCRACKEN, 2nd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, Krerouf, 11 April 1943.

Everyone thought SERGEANT JACKSON'S buddy, SERGEANT HAMNER, was cracked when he remarked that he saw a building moving around. But it was a German gun position. They are very smart and use houses, sand dunes, or hay stacks as gun positions. The moving building turned out to be a vehicle with windows painted on representing windows of a house.

The Germans not only hate lead and shrapnel as much as we do, but they definitely don't like smoke. I think SERGEANT JACKSON will bear me out in this. It has an awful effect on their morale.

Another thing is ricochet firing. Catch a tank approaching and drop a high explosive shell 60 to 80 yards in front. Give it time to travel the necessary distance and it will burst on their heads. I don't like high bursts and I know they don't either.

Ricochet bursts in a half-moon pattern and has five or six times more explosive force than ordinary ground bursts. It drives them down in a slit trench; then wait for them to come out, and then give them another one.

The German tanks and gun carriers have their mufflers and exhausts pointed to the high heavens rather than to the ground, thus eliminating another possibility of raising dust clouds.

One time when we were short of binoculars, GENERAL WARD took field glasses from his Division Staff to give to the tank commanders.

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LIEUTENANT BORESH, Commanding Officer, Company "E", 1st Armored Regiment.

The company was reorganized a month before the battle of El Guettar. There was a question of how it was going to work out. It did quite well, better than I thought.

On the 31st of March I was called to Headquarters at 11:30 and was told that we would attack at 12:30. I had no time for reconnaissance, only to locate gaps in the mine fields that we had to go through, but I had time to tell the platoon leaders the order. The attack started on time and we came under heavy artillery fire when we went through the mine field. After that we got nothing until we reached the top of a ridge near the objective. A platoon leader was wounded. I led his platoon up cautiously and got a little small arms fire. One of the tanks got too fast and was knocked out. Later, when we reached the objective, one of the other platoons lost a tank also. After accomplishing our mission, we took a defensive position and began to fire on 88-mm guns that could be seen from our position. I think we knocked out 4 guns and several vehicles that could be seen on the road below, also a tank.

One German gun was hit at 3500 yards. We fired at a lower level, estimated the elevation, and hit it.

Although we have had air burst 20 to 25 feet off the ground, we were not hit. Lucky, I think; air bursts are more frightening than dangerous.

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STAFF SERGEANT WILLIAM HAGLER, Company "E", 1st Armored Regiment.

I saw a German Mark IV tank and an American M4 tank fire at the same time once, and both caught fire.

A tank has its place in a counter attack where the enemy hasn't had time to place antitank guns. They are also most useful in the retreat of the enemy, but they are expensive to make an attack with against a well organized position. I believe that our losses in personnel are light in comparison with our tank losses. For tank losses of 8 we lost:

4 men killed.

1 crew of 5 missing.

7 men and 1 officer wounded.

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LIEUTENANT PARKER, 2nd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, Reconnaissance Officer.

You told them all about it. We just walked into a trap at Sidi bou Zid. I was on the right flank. We passed through the Regimental Reconnaissance Platoon. We had artillery to our right rear. No one told us that they were coming through. I think I was the first one to give them the word that they were coming. They came out of the hill southwest of Sidi bou Zid. I gave the warning, but our people didn't do anything that I know of. Then I got the artillery observer. The tanks were then 300 yards away. I know of only 3 artillery shells that fell on our right. I lost my reconnaissance car and came out in a peep that night. I brought 9 men out with me.

I can't understand why there was no artillery fire, as the tanks were perfect targets — massed 30 feet apart. Possibly no communication.

The Germans clean the battlefield of everything. At Medjes-el-Bab the Germans cleaned up, after darkness, only 800 yards away. We found only burned out tanks and wheels the next morning. The German recovery crew was joined by the returning tank crews, who signal each other with flares. The tank crews assisted the recovery crews in locating and pulling in damaged equipment. The Germans also use flare signals in locating stuff at night.

We got one of the boys back yesterday that was burned and had been in the hospital. He got burned in the battle of Sbeitla — SERGEANT REECE.

SERGEANT HAGLER: He is a good boy. His nose was peeled like a cherry when we took him out. He has lots of guts.

I had to wait a week for some tank clutches and spark plugs and had to rush like hell before this move from Faid. Last night was the toughest road march I ever made.

LIEUTENANT PARKER: It's embarrassing to have to go up for information under fire and then have to go back under fire and then go up for more information again. The most favorable place to hide is in the defilades to get the information.

SERGEANT HAGLER: Spare parts we get now by robbing the battlefields. Engines are pulled in the maintenance 10 or 12 miles to the rear.

At present, sir, the clothes I have on are all that I have. I wash them in gasoline and they dry in about 5 minutes.

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PRIVATE HABAR, Headquarters Company, 1st Armored Regiment.

All the clothes I have, I've got on, sir. I lost the rest when I was driving for the Quartermaster two months ago. I wash fatigues in gasoline and boil underclothes with GI soap.

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STAFF SERGEANT WILLIAM HAGLER, Company "E" 1st Armored Regiment.

At Medjez-el-Bab there was little or no reconnaissance. Our infantry attacked in the morning. One platoon of tanks was supposed to follow the right flank, and it was supposed to be protected by another platoon. We had no reconnaissance other than our own on foot. We walked the tanks in. We had no orders other than to await a tank attack. The following morning about 0900 hours we lost two tanks to the 88-mm guns. The first was the command tank. I went forward to get the crew and lost my tank by three 88-mm gun hits. Subsequently the entire command tank crew was lost by mortar fire. I was wounded and taken to the rear. I am confident that reconnaissance would have saved those two tanks. The light tanks followed us around.

At Smitty's farm at Medjez-el-Bab on December 10th, Germans packed mud on the turrets of their Mark IV tanks to make them look like our M4 tanks. Our own foot reconnaissance picked this up and we were ready for it. Our position was of stationary disguised artillery. We waited until the Mark IV's were within 800 yards, then opened fire. We got five Mark IV's, one of our M3 tanks being used by the Germans, and one German motorcyclist in a United States Army combat suit. We found only three guns. The German tanks were carrying shock troops.

At El Guettar on 31 March 1943, I was protecting the company commander's left flank. His platoon lost one vehicle from 88 fire. He knocked out one 88. By looking through my glasses, I saw it roll over. I knocked one motorcyclist off his cycle with a .45 caliber pistol, and broke his hip. I made him crawl to me and searched him, but found nothing. Heavy artillery fire was going on with air bursts — I was in a sweat. One crew of my platoon abandoned its tank, which had been hit. Later the company commander, 1ST LIEUTENANT BORESH, with a driver, went back under fire and recovered the tank. I saw a cyclist getting away and thought him to be a messenger, so I shot a super HE just ahead of him and he ran into the burst. Pretty expensive shot, but he was out of .30 caliber range.

[M10 TD emplacement looking toward Faid Pass. This TD crew had worked day and night to dig two such emplacements in the stony soil]
M10 TD emplacement looking toward Faid Pass. This TD crew had worked day and night to dig two such emplacements in the stony soil

Afterwards we assembled, gathered the wounded, and came out by a roundabout route. I was covering the retreat. I saw a gun crew running to their gun and gave them four supers. They got in the way and we went on. We came to a mine field at dark. We bedded down and moved on at daylight.

GENERAL CAMP: What is the most important thing for a tanker to know?

SERGEANT HAGLER: Everything. Every man must know his job and the tank commander must know them all. The most important thing I have learned here is the German employment in depth of antitank guns. In tank versus tank, our M4's can handle them two to one, and everyone here will tell you the same. We're learning. The last battle, El Guettar, went better than the one before (Sidi bou Zid). When going into a battle where you expect to lose 10 tanks, take 25 extra.

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CAPTAIN A. R. MOORE, Company "F", 1st Armored Regiment.

The M10's look good to me; all the boys who drive them swear by them. They use them hull down in defilade, nose over.

We lost 4 vehicles to Teller mines. Around on the other side of the hill there were anti-tank guns 1/2 mile in depth.

At present we have a few super shells saved for a special occasion.*

[*NOTE: Maintenance became the subject of the conversation. Everyone talked at once and earnestly about 'salvaging' spare parts from abandoned vehicles. The scribe could not keep up. Talking about a race to get to a certain abandoned, disabled, American tank, one exclaimed, 'Christ, someone beat me to that one; homelite gone, radio gone, we had tried to beat the Ordnance to it, damn it.'

Another stated, 'My crews go back with the tanks to the Ordnance and they keep a guard with a Tommy gun posted to see that no one gets away by mistake with even a single wrench from it. We have to have all our equipment and the men look out and see that they do have it and don't lose anything. What good is a tank that doesn't have a crank or gun sight?']

COLONEL TALBOTT: Often we can't tell whether vehicles are ours or theirs. Once when the 2nd Battalion had three tanks left and the 3rd Battalion had six, and we were fighting a delaying action, we couldn't determine whose tanks were where. By holding our fire we let Jerry occupy a ridge.

I prefer maps to photos. It all simmers down to the fact that you can't beat that personal reconnaissance.

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