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

Lone Sentry: Tankers in Tunisia: Part 7 [original pp. 35-39]


[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]

1ST LIEUTENANT HARRY T. HOLTZMAN, Company "D", 1st Armored Regiment, Krerouf, 11 April 1943.

This battalion tried twice to crack the pass east of El Guettar. The start for Gabes was made too late. The first clay we reached a mine field at dark and had to stop; you can't operate tanks after dark without infantry in front.

The second try — we were the third of three companies — I put one platoon in front and two in reserve to meet 88-mm guns or counter attack. This is best, to put platoons in the formation which can best be controlled. This is dependent on terrain. Give the platoon leader his objective, sector, and the position of the company commander and of other platoons, and let him work to the objective as best he sees fit. Keep in contact by radio. The old teaching of over-running antitank guns is impossible here; 88-mm guns are almost always protected by tanks, mines, and other antitank guns.

My tactics in an attack: Platoon in inverted wedge to proceed when it sees fit. Move cautiously. Company commander behind company working from observation post to observation post, even up to 100 yards from leading platoon.

During this attack on the Pass protected by the mine fields the tanks had to proceed in column through the mines. The Germans let the entire company go through the mines. One tank was lost by fire from a Mark IV tank, but the remainder pressed on.

Having gone through the mine field I engaged a Mark IV tank. The description of the engagement will demonstrate some of the Germans' tactics and some of ours. The Germans opened fire from a well camouflaged position, 2000 yards on the flank, with a 77-mm gun; supporting artillery fired an air burst to keep the tank 'buttoned up' and thus obscure vision. I was able to observe the flash. Immediately we turned this tank, which had been caught from the vulnerable flank, head into the gun, thus placing the heaviest armor towards the enemy. The enemy's shot was short. I began to back up, the only thing to do when caught in the open. After I reached better ground, the German and I both started maneuvering against each other among the low hills. Finally I caught the German coming around a hill the correct range to which I had already found by firing two rounds of high explosive ammunition. My first round of armor piercing ammunition immobilized him. I fired several more into his Mark IV tank. He did no more damage. We expended altogether 18 rounds on his tank.

Our tank track had been hit twice and the tank was limping. Jerry always picks a command tank. When you are being shelled by indirect fire, as we were then from 88-mm guns, keep moving in a circle to throw his range and deflection off.

In the meanwhile a second platoon had come up as requested of COLONEL TALBOTT by me, and got into position to do indirect fire. The 88-mm guns were spotted at 6000 yards. The platoon began to fire high explosive ammunition, semi-indirect fire (by guess and by God), and dumped in 200 rounds. Results were not clear. In the meanwhile a platoon of M10 tank destroyers had arrived. Then two German Mark II tanks appeared near the knocked-out Mark IV tank. They were destroyed by the fire of the tank destroyers and of our tanks.

Suggestions on training:

An officer is a school teacher before and during combat.

Talk constantly over the radio to the men you lead.

Most of the 1st Armored Division is well-trained, but one must keep reminding them of their training.

During our training we jump from one thing to another too much. This is thought to hold interest, but really accomplishes nothing. We need longer, more interesting periods.

Men who have been in combat want more training.

The major training subjects we need are, first, all kinds of gunnery.

In small arms we stress too much correct position and range procedure. We need training under combat conditions at longer ranges and especially 'pot shots' and fire and movement combined.

COLONEL TALBOT: Our tanks were the only moving targets available. Men fired at the tanks rather than at towed targets.

LIEUTENANT HOLTZMAN: In teaching tactics the terrain board training is most valuable. We made a board of the Sidi bou Zid battle area and reviewed ours and the enemy's movements. The terrain board need not be elaborate. Give students model tanks, give the platoon leaders objectives, and let the entire crew solve problems. Give the situation and let them dope it out.

If you run into one of the 88-mm guns, there will be two more. You can't crush those antitank guns. They are employed in depth and are protected by mines, tanks, and smaller antitank guns. When an 88-mm gun is located, leave one tank to engage it and send the rest of the platoon to the flanks to locate other guns. These antitank guns are employed in depth with 88-mm guns in the rear. The 88-mm guns open fire first, drawing the tank commander's attention. The tank will make this gun his objective and, if possible, advance on it, until he is caught from the flanks by 47-mm guns and/or tanks. Tanks will draw our armor towards the 88-mm guns. Solution at El Guettar was to send two reserve platoons to the flanks and call for artillery support.

At El Guettar no high ground was available to artillery observers. Tankers did observing for from one to five battalions at one time. I would have every man in the battalion a forward observer able to give initial data and adjust fire.

Try to arouse interest in learning first aid. The most valuable asset when a tank is hit is to know the use of sulpha powder and pills and the treatment of burns, puncture and laceration wounds. In a JU 88 bombing April 1st, the men were caught outside of the tanks.

Everyone in the Armored Force should be able to drive a tank properly. Everyone should be able to do everyone else's job so that he can carry on under casualties. The higher gears on a tank are seldom used in combat. One gear is used during approach and attack. Slowly moving, dustless tanks have a terrifying aspect.

LIEUTENANT McCRACKEN: At Sidi bou Zid, slowly moving German tanks were at the proper place at the proper time. Our down-pointed mufflers raise much dust. Jerry's exhaust points up.

COLONEL TALBOTT: We have now learned to move over normal dry bunch-grass terrain without dust.

During the February 15th Sidi bou Zid battle, part of our reconnaissance trapped on top of Lessouda Mountain observed dustless German tanks creeping at very low speed, for many hours, to reach proper position for a surprise attack.

Radio instruction should get to the point where every ordinary soldier can check and use every set. Procedure is important. No extra chatter. Everyone in the company can operate sets.

German planes will wheel overhead and pretend to 'peel off', thus attracting attention of the ground troops. While this distraction is taking place, German tanks will attack the flanks. We call this the 'Smith Brothers' Act.

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SERGEANT LASLEY, Company "G", 1st Armored Regiment, Maknassy, 4 April 1943.

I have been a tank commander for eleven months off and on. I have seen action at Faid Pass and also in two or three small actions involving only artillery shelling.

I ran the tank by interphone. Once in a while we have trouble with the interphone. When it goes out, I do the best I can. I holler to the gunner; he hollers to the assistant driver.

I fired individually and picked my own target. The platoon leader did not designate the target.

Our practice has generally been to move from place to place under the direction of the platoon leader, who used the radio. One section covered the movement of the other as well as they could. But we were afraid to fire too much on the flanks for fear of hitting our own tanks.

The German tactic is to try to make it look easy. They draw you in. They even used one of our captured vehicles as a decoy. They get you in, and then they give it to you.

At Faid we were on a plateau. It was dark. We were firing, on the move, at flashes. We were too close to the artillery. So we backed away and fired on the move. We used a stabilizer, firing at a range of 300 to 400 yards. Finally our tank was hit with an 88-mm shell. It was the third shell which finally destroyed the tank. The first two bounced off. When the third hit, the tank caught fire immediately. The shell landed on the floor of the tank. Shrapnel went into the hull and on the floor. I believe the ammunition caught fire first, then the gasoline. We all got out except one man. When we left the tank it was still running backwards in reverse. We started to run toward our own lines.

[What a German Mark III Tank looks like against the background of North African terrain]
What a German Mark III Tank looks like against the background of North African terrain

As long as we have as much equipment as the Germans, we can match them.

We had armor piercing ammunition when we needed it.

When you are fired upon, if you have a good tank like an M4, you try to find out where the enemy is and fire even before you find a good position. Of course, it is best to get under cover as soon as you can. When fired on, you should get out of the fire area, find cover, and then fire.

You should go from one firing position to another as a platoon. But at times we must go on our own. Sometimes you must act on your own because you can see the ground that you are going on better than the platoon leader.

The driver and assistant driver should assist in picking out targets. They can be on the alert and pick out targets that the gunners can't see.

We also lost a tank when coming back in to Sidi bou Zid. The motor stopped and we couldn't go further. We left it but didn't destroy it because we thought the Americans would take it over again. We went into the town. Then our company commander sent us back to destroy the tank.

I have a good, well-trained crew. One is from the 2nd Armored Division, the others from 'I' Company.

The M4A2 seems to be a swell tank.

    *    *    *    *    

SERGEANT NEAL, Company "I", 3rd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, Maknassy, 4 April 1943.

I am a platoon sergeant. In the action at Sidi bou Zid I was the driver for the platoon leader.

During the first week we were near Sidi bou Zid guarding the Pass. We were equipped for indirect firing. All of our tanks were in the vicinity of the Pass — set back about 5 or 6 miles. We'd come within 2000 yards of the Pass every morning, fire into the Pass, and pull back. We were just back of Lessouda Mountain.

On the morning in question, we were in the cactus patch southeast of Sidi bou Zid. We got up and had orders to be on the alert. Suddenly we saw firing where 'G' Company was. We fired back. It lasted one hour. Then we pulled up towards the north and along the road in line formation. At this time hell broke loose and we continued to fire. When we first opened up the targets were hard to see. Then we saw firing from the mountains to the east. We fired until we had orders to pull out and go back to Sidi bou Zid. We went back and remained there. Tanks kept coming. We pulled out and were met by a line of tanks from the southwest. That's where we lost four other tanks, including our tank. We were fired on by Mark VI tanks and 88-mm guns. Our tank was hit in the turret. It listed and caught on fire. I believe it was a Mark VI tank which hit us.

We all got out of the tank and lay in a ditch all night while German tanks passed us. Then we went into the mountains and walked to Kasserine. We lived with the Arabs and ate their food and water.

What I've learned here in Africa is that it is important to respect, not fear, the 88-mm guns. You must keep in turret defilade. They can knock you out at 3000 yards. I have also learned that tanks must have support. If we had air and infantry we could have done a good job. If the infantry had been ahead of us at the Pass, they could have helped quite a bit.

We had an M4 tank. It worked OK.

We should have plenty of reconnaissance. We will have a much better chance if we know what we are doing.

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