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

Lone Sentry: Tankers in Tunisia: Part 11 [original pp. 54-60]

 

Preface
[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]
Index
[original pp. 61-62]
         

PRIVATE JAMES PASEK, Company "A", 751st Tank Battalion (M), near Fondouk, 12 April 1943.

I was the radio operator in tank number three. We started out from 'A' Company and everything was going fine. I was sitting on one of the ammunition boxes and was watching tank number two through a vision sight. We were swerving to the right and left. They started shooting. Someone then calls out, 'They've hit the tank commander of tank number two'. We kept going when suddenly our tank commander yells out, "We are in a mine field". They all thought it was an 88-mm gun that was shooting off. I picked up a rifle and went with the others until we saw our boys near the mine fields. You could hear the armor piercing shells, and you knew they were that because when they hit they did not explode. The rest of the crew went back to a shallow ditch. We thought it was best to stay with the tank until we could not do any good.

Tank number one was coming to the left; I ran out twenty feet or so to try to flag it down, and I was successful. We had tried to flag down another tank previous to that, but the tank commander probably did not see us, and they hit the mine field too.

They kept firing the armor piercing shells and when one hit a mine field near me there was a terrific explosion, that's when I was really scared. A tank came along and I said I would lead them out of the mines and I led them up to the road about a mile away. It was my idea for them to come out on the same tracks we had come in on. After this I went back to the boys, for I could not leave my crew, who were watching for the infantry and guarding the tank. I really feel proud of our crew — the best there is. My only regret is that I could not get up to that hill.

How are the radios?

Fine; I cannot complain. It's only an interphone; actually, I am a radio tender.

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CORPORAL STEPHEN J. SIRACUSA, Company "B", 751st Tank Battalion (M), near Fondouk, 12 April 1943.

Are you a tank driver?

Yes, sir, I am a tank driver.

Tell me how you drive the tank so that other men may get to learn something of it.

From the start you have to keep up your motor at all times to 1500 revolutions, and never let it get lower than that, because when she gets below 1500, the tank is no good as it has no pick-up.

How do you know where to go?

The tank commander directs me.

Do you pick the ground?

Yes, I pick the ground.

Do you try to keep your front towards the enemy?

Well, we kept it towards the hills as much as we could.

Have you ever picked up any targets?

I did not until we were behind it.

What did you do then?

I stopped. You always stop when they fire.

What about stabilizers?

The stabilizers do not work on rough ground. Our stabilizer was in maintenance, and they did not fix it in time.

Did you worry about it?

No, sir.

What did you do when they started firing at you when you left the tank?

We were lying as still as we could. Every time we moved, they would open up.

Did you lie flat?

Yes.

What do you do yourself in the way of maintenance when you can't get help?

We drain the carburetor, grease the throw-out bearings and support rollers. We have steel tracks. The cactus juice and sand gum up the support rollers. We've burned out three of these steel tracks.

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PRIVATE RAYMOND CHRISTY, Company "C", 751st Tank Battalion (M), near Fondouk, 12 April 1943.

What do you do?

I am the tank driver of tank number one.

What happened to you?

When we started up the second time, we went through an orchard, and when we got on the south side of the orchard, we turned right and drove on the right side of the Pass a little way, and then into the Pass, then drove 50 or 75 yards and turned left. We went straight into the Pass and turned right again and across the road. We went around 50 feet when they shot us in the left track with an armor piercing shell. The lieutenant said to me, 'Let's try to get through with one track'. We drove about 50 or 60 feet when another shot hit us. I started to go out through my escape door. The turret was turned so that the gun blocked the way. When I called to the other boys to revolve the turret so I could get out, I found they were all dead. I went over and got out through the assistant driver's door, and ran hack until COLONEL HAMMACK picked me up.

Was he in his M4 tank?

Yes, I stopped him. Other tanks wanted to pick me up but I motioned them to go on.

Did he take you right into the tank?

No, but I rode on it.

Was he inside the turret?

He was inside and I was on it and it kept moving. The turret cover was open.

Well, what trick would you tell other drivers about driving?

Keep moving and not in one direction; keep zig-zagging. I would say, when firing, always stop even to shoot just one shot. Pick out a good firing position.

Do you try to get a position that covers the tank?

Yes, always.

    *    *    *    *    

LIEUTENANT COLONEL McPHEETERS, Commanding 91st Field Artillery Battalion, Armored, 1st Armored Division, near Lessouda, 17 April 1943.

At Sened, when these enemy tanks broke through a sort of hysteria took hold of everyone. The tanks were knocked out but the hysteria continued. I had to halt one column. We got the retreat stopped.

In a definite prepared tank attack, the artillery should be as far forward as possible to give maximum support. As the attack progresses, keep displacing forward, one battery moving, two firing.

Keep the men in the M7's. They are better than any slit trench. Most of our casualties were from running during a shelling or a bombing. Hit the dirt even if there is no hole.

The forward observers should be where they can best see. Often it is with the infantry, but sometimes from a point of vantage some distance from the supporting unit. However, wherever he is, he must make his presence and whereabouts known to the supported unit's commander.

We do not have enough forward observers to have one every 500 yards along the front. They have to place themselves carefully.

When the drive through Maknassy bogged down, Division Artillery took over control of five battalions. Observation was difficult and the enemy was dug in.

In an attack by one of our infantry battalions, we had two observers with the battalion. We have one for the normal defensive position. The infantry designated targets simply by showing them to the observer.

We have fired, sensed by the tankers and infantrymen. They give the coordinates. We fire one round of smoke for them to pick up; when they get near enough we fire for effect. In this division we are lucky to have a number of officers, commanding tanks and infantry, who know artillery, i.e. LIEUTENANT COLONEL HIGHTOWER, Field Artillery, First Armored Regiment; CROSBY and BLODGETT have learned to adjust fire.

We try to get the infantry to understand the use of defensive concentrations for use day or night. The big difficulty is that they don't know what these concentrations are for, and that they can be used to great advantage.

I arrange to have my forward observers adjust by daylight on certain vulnerable sectors. The concentration numbers are given to the infantry commander to be fired on call day or night. The new officers don't seem to understand the value of such support. For instance, on the sector north of Maknassy the infantry outpost commander was changed. The old commander failed to give the new any information of the prepared artillery fire in his sector.

The forward observers must report to the commander of the supported unit. Failure to do this has, on several occasions, made our artillery support ineffective. I jumped on the observers hard about it.

My objective would be to train every tank crew for indirect fire.

This division has made four trips up the Maknassy Valley. The enemy, with his good observation posts, can defend with very few troops. We got the high ground south of Maknassy only because someone had the initiative to do it on his own hook.

We must learn to make better use of high observation posts. I was able to do good work on the Gum Tree Road because I was the only one who had high observation posts. I kept the observation post ahead of the advance all the way up the valley.

I think too many of our troops are scared of being shot at. There is a time to be cautious, but the reconnaissance must draw fire, it is their job.

I got so Goddam mad at this 155-mm gun battery next to my command post. Because the German 170-mm guns had fired on his battery, he wanted to move back out of range. His mission was to knock out those 170's. When he asked permission to move, GENERAL WARD said yes, he could displace forward anywhere he wanted. We moved him up another 2000 yards and silenced the 170-mm guns. However, with those big guns, because of the muzzle blast, you have to use discretion about ceasing firing when you get counter battery.

This Nebelwerfer 41 (German multi-barrel mortar) made me so damn mad. It scares the devil out of the front line troops (20 rounds in 10 seconds). I took our Piper Cub and went to 6000 feet, found him, and got in some rounds for effect. He shut up.

    *    *    *    *    

A BRITISH GENERAL OFFICER OF THE WIDEST TANK EXPERIENCE, Tunisia, 16 April 1943.

In my opinion the Sherman is the finest tank in the world, better than anything else we have and also better than anything the Germans have. It will be the best tank for the next five years. The German Mark VI is definitely no good. It will go only 1000 miles on its own power; hence it must he hauled everywhere it goes; and it can't be hauled by rail because of its width. It can't be carried anywhere in Europe. The use for light tanks in the future, now that we have the Sherman, is for reconnaissance.

If peeps are sandbagged the legs and feet, which are usually hit by mine explosions, can be protected from mines.

Tanks should be run only one mile faster than their lowest economical speed in order to save the clutch.

The British mark their tanks by regiments, by painting in large black letters on the backs of their Shermans the names of cities, etc. Painting the name in letters just as big as possible on the stern flat works well.

Self-sealing gasoline tanks for tanks are nice, but they are not vital. It is the ammunition, not the gasoline, that burns. German tanks burn too if ammunition is hit. I think that the German aims to hit our ammunition. In one battalion 15 tanks were penetrated; 11 of them burned, 10 because of ammunition. In these 15 tanks there were only 15 casualties. I estimate that casualties in destroyed tanks are between 1 and 2 per tank, but closer to 1. In another battle 15 tanks were penetrated; 7 burned, all but 1 by ammunition fires.

We must get away from the idea that tanks can work alone. Tanks can take terrain but can't hold it. The tank is, in my opinion an assault weapon — not an indirect firing weapon. However, in a regiment of tanks in attack, 1/3 of them should be used for neutralizing fire.

It takes three months to train tactically a tank unit.

A good drill is to have tanks shoot at each other with small caliber weapons. Try to hit the ammunition compartment. The only good way to fire Shermans is covering each other and firing from hull down positions. It is important to continually work ammunition towards the gun — take every opportunity to refill ready clips and the ammunition rack in turret.

As to buttoning up tanks in combat, the commander should not he foolhardy but he must look around. A tin hat is necessary when the commander exposes his head.

To pick up a casualty, drive over the man, pull up the escape plates, have the assistant driver reach down with his feet and roll the wounded man face down, and then pull him in shoulders first.

A good drill in combat practice is to bang the tank with a hammer and say the tank is burning. I used this signal to rule out tanks and train the crews to get out.

In battle the mention of 'withdrawal' is fatal.

The Germans' 50-mm antitank guns are more damaging than the 88-mm, because they are harder to find and so many more of them.

Smoke is indispensible when caught under antitank fire; and is especially useful when working with infantry, to point out objectives such as antitank guns; to screen their movements; and to cover them while clearing mines. It is also useful for recovery of vehicles. Keep on your own side of the smoke.

    *    *    *    *    

CAPTAIN HENRY C. TIPTON, Parachute Infantry, Aide to BRIGADIER GENERAL T. J. CAMP, Krerouf, 10 April 1943. Log of advance by Combat Command "A" of the 1st Armored Division.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL HIGHTOWER of the Staff of Combat Command 'A' of the 1st Armored Division gave the word 'go' for Combat Command 'A' at 1235. The Combat Command was marching from various initial points to force Rebaou Pass south of Faid Pass, sweep the valley east of the mountains to the north with the objective of Krerouf, and the further mission to make contact with the 34th Division near Fondouk.

BRIGADIER GENERAL McQUILLAN, in command, moved in his tank followed by his scout car, and directed the attack by radio. He left Combat Command 'A' bivouac west of Sidi bou Zid at 1310.

GENERAL CAMP followed in his jeep. LIEUTENANT T. E. HILLIARD and I took turns driving him because the driver was killed last week when the jeep got bombed and shot up. We helped each other keep in the track of GENERAL McQUILLAN'S tank and scout car so as to avoid mines. We had sand bags on the floor of the jeep. The attack went well and GENERAL McQUILLAN quickly forged to the front of the column, checking the readiness of the units to fall in as he passed. The start was timed so as to go through the mine field as soon as it was cleared by the engineers.

We met an artillery outfit at 1425 halted at the side of the road; they said they were waiting for the advance guard. GENERAL McQUILLAN pushed them ahead and he outdistanced us. Near the Pass of Rebaou at the mine field the column was halted. GENERAL CAMP walked ahead and found reconnaissance elements halted; they said they thought the road was blocked. At this same time COLONEL SUTHERLAND, of GENERAL McQUILLAN'S staff was ordering the same elements to resume its march. These people, sitting in the road doing nothing, was an example of what one vehicle can do to a column of troops. It was holding up the entire Combat Command and the road was absolutely clear in front. The trouble was that three or four empty peeps of the mine sweeping detachment had parked on the shoulders of the road. You could get between them, but it sort of looked like the road was blocked.

[Contact near Fondouk, 10 April 1943, between a peep of the 34th Infantry Division and a scout car of Combat Command A of the 1st Armored Division]
Contact near Fondouk, 10 April 1943, between a peep of the 34th Infantry Division and a scout car of Combat Command "A" of the 1st Armored Division

We went through the Pass at 1525, had covered 18 miles in two hours and fifteen minutes. I saw one vehicle disabled by an antitank mine. We caught up to GENERAL McQUILLAN and reached the road west from Faid at 1615. This was 25 miles from the start. GENERAL McQUILLAN called up his reconnaissance and directed full speed advance on the objective. His reconnaissance still lagged and he goaded them on by taking the lead himself, but soon outdistanced them and reached his objective, Krerouf, at 17:30, 39 1/2 miles from the start. This speed was based, in part, on the fact that Arabs were grazing their camels along the road. We knew that the camels were valuable and that the Arabs probably wouldn't put them where there was going to be any shooting. We took it easy and put our guns to safe when there were camels close by.

On the main road on the way up there was a fork in the road, and we asked a friendly native who was standing there where the Germans were. With a shout of laughter he said, 'The Germans! Whoosh!' and he accompanied his 'Whoosh' with a wave of his arms up the road over the mountains to the northeast, indicating that the Germans had gone in a hurry.

Krerouf was where two unimproved roads crossed each other; it was marked by a road sign. GENERAL McQUILLAN radioed that he had reached his objective and changed to his scout car from his tank and GENERAL CAMP went into the scout car with him. He started on to contact the 34th Division near Fondouk. MILLIARD and I followed in the jeep, as the get-away men of the patrol. The tank slowed down a little and wouldn't push fast enough, so GENERAL McQUILLAN ran his scout car ahead of it and led the way for a while. After that he let the tank take the lead again and the sergeant really made that tank run. We contacted the outpost of the 34th Division 17 miles further north, near Fondouk, at 1830. We had then made 56 1/2 miles from the start. The outpost was surprised when the tank bore down on them. GENERAL McQUILLAN radioed back the contact. The outpost was living high on German supplies.

On the way we had passed all kinds of abandoned German equipment and often had to run around grenades and other stuff in the road. We went back to Krerouf and on the way there came a request over the radio for confirmation of reaching Krerouf. Apparently no one believed we could have gotten there so quickly. We stopped for an Italian motorcycle that was in perfect condition except for three broken spokes. An engineer colonel was with us and he had us tie a tow rope on it and jerk it around a little to be sure there were no booby traps. We loaded the motorcycle in the jeep and when we got back to camp GENERAL McQUILLAN'S aide started running around on it.

A few loads of Germans who had been cut off by our advance were being collected, and in the blackout a truck loaded with prisoners ran into and completely wrecked our peep that was carrying our baggage up with the rear echelon of the Command Post. The driver wasn't hurt.

This tactical advance was conspicuous for its lightning speed and determination.

[General Camp, some of the Africa Corps prisoners and General McQuillan - Krerouf, 11 April 1943]
General Camp, some of the Africa Corps prisoners and General McQuillan — Krerouf, 11 April 1943

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