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

Lone Sentry: Tankers in Tunisia: Part 10 [original pp. 49-53]


[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 WILBUR R. WHITE, Company "H", 13th Armored Regiment.

Take more leads when firing at aircraft.

When under artillery fire, stay in your tank — it's better than any foxhole.

Remember that every antitank gun is not an 88.

At El Guettar it's rough tank country. Our objective was the base of a mountain. The first platoon was on the right and the second on the left. I was in the rear center in reserve. We had been told that enemy tanks might be between us and the objective. We reached the objective without incident, turned east, and advanced towards Gabes about 13 miles. I stopped to get the situation. The company commander assembled the platoon leaders and told us we would advance eastward until stopped. While we were stopped, some of my men brought up eight German prisoners. They said the Germans had left them. Along about 1730 three of my tanks dropped out — engine and clutch trouble. I went on with the two I had left. We went about 10 miles. It was too dark to see. We ran into — well, I don't know what, but everybody was shooting at everybody. I could hear on my radio, but could not talk. I sat there for about an hour. There was one tank I could communicate with; I got his position in relation to a wadi we had crossed before dark. He said he was near an old monument. I remembered where that was and went back with my two tanks. When we got there there were about fifteen or twenty tanks. We formed a circle for defense and awaited orders. We waited all night. Next morning, MAJOR BLODGETT sent a peep around to tell us where the maintenance was and where to find our organizations. We got all our vehicles running and returned to El Hafey. During the night maintenance had repaired my three fall-outs.

The night before this attack started, our M3 tank threw a track. Sergeant McVey and I put it back with the tools we had on the tank. The captain complimented us because, if the tank had been left, Jerry would have shelled it when daylight came.

When full maintenance is not available, look out for certain things: battery, water, keep check on control boxes in turret. Many of our bad clutches are due to dust. If maintenance uses an air hose to blow this out with it helps.

If we had more heavy maintenance and tank carriers at El Haley, we could have saved four tanks.

At a Pass near El Hafey we left two M3 tanks and one M4 tank disabled. The next morning we went back to destroy them with our 75-mm guns. We fired five high explosive and four armor piercing shells at the M4 tank, and finally set it on fire. One M3 tank caught fire on the second shot. British reconnaissance said that the M4 tank had never been penetrated, only gouged.

East of El Guettar we were told there were enemy vehicles between us and the objective. I saw some vehicles and opened up at 5000 yards, to see what would happen. Then on the radio the reconnaissance officer yelled to quit firing at him. We had never been told the reconnaissance was there, and we couldn't identify our own vehicles.

The tank commander should have a combined steel helmet and radio earphones. He has to have his head out most of the time.

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STAFF SERGEANT LEWIS SHELTON, Company "I", 13th Armored Regiment.

We didn't have enough training by platoon and company back at Knox.

Our people don't understand terrain. They think they are hidden, and then find themselves in direct fire.

At Sened we saw gun flashes in two different olive groves 1000 yards apart. We systematically fired through each grove with high explosive shells, 25 yards apart. advancing all the time, still not seeing any guns or men. The first we saw of them was men leaving a pill box and going to a half-track. This was the first we had seen of the half-track. The second shot got them. We never saw the guns until we were within 500 yards. There were trucks too. but we didn't see them either, until we were within 100 yards. They were full of ammunition. We didn't throw grenades into the foxholes, but fired on them.

Our tanks were separated from the company. We got back to the assembly point by following our own tracks.

Often we never know where the front line is, and consequently hold our fire thinking they are our own troops. I think if our boys knew where our troops were, they would be mentally set to go to work, and would at least have a half-assed idea of where to look for the enemy. At Sened we thought we were the furthest forward element. I put up machine gun nests to protect the tank. About that time some 6th Infantry came up. That was the first we had heard of them being there.

There are two things we ought to do more — (1) fire with stabilizer while moving, (2) keep zig-zagging in open country.

One evening at Kasserine they took our platoon over to the British on the Falla side of the Pass. We were told the British had sixteen Churchill tanks. These turned out to be Valentines and every one of them was knocked out. All the next day we were under artillery fire and went into the wadi. At dark Jerry sent one tank, as far as we could see, down the road. We could have circled through the low ground and hit them from the flank. Instead we retreated and were put into position on the forward slope of the hill. We were told that there would be one peep down the road and everything after that would be our meat. Instead, 40 vehicles came down the road and nobody expected any of them. We were on the skyline. Without a word of warning, Jerry opened up on us and set three of us on fire. I got away. Had we been in a low, open, dark position, we could have knocked out eleven of them. As it was, we were in a white sand patch. We didn't know the disposition of the troops who were working with us.

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1ST LIEUTENANT GEORGE DEMPSEY, Company "I", 13th Armored Regiment, near Sidi boo Zid, 18 April 1943.

The battle flags we've been flying seem to draw fire.

I hope the supply sections understand that when a tank is knocked out, even if the crew escapes, they invariably lose all their personal equipment.

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LIEUTENANT COLONEL LOUIS A. HAMMACK, 751st Tank Battalion (M), Fondouk, 13 April 1943.

I believe there should be a definite battle formation; the infantry following the second wave of tanks and preceding the last wave. This is necessary so that the tanks may be able to knock out any machine guns that are missed by the leading waves, and then open fire behind the advancing infantry.

I have what is known as the regular formation, in which I have one company to support the other two companies going on the objective. The supporting company fires either direct or indirect. One company goes to the right, and one company to the left. The right company, using fire and movement by platoons, covers the whole objective, while the left company gives close, direct support by fire. The left company then crosses the objective in the opposite direction and takes position to support the other two companies on the next objective. In the meantime, as soon as the support company's fire is masked, it proceeds on the right to the second objective. When the final or main objective is taken, we rally well forward, and if no further instructions are given, we return to the reservicing position.

The formations right and left are the same in principle except when the terrain is such that two companies can initially go to the right or left. As soon as we come under fire, the companies always advance by platoons, using fire and movement.

The terrain was flat, the objective was high, and the enemy had direct observation on us during the entire advance. It was a distance of about 3 1/2 miles.

It was impossible for the tanks to go on top of the objective. We surrounded the objective and got as far as we could, the idea being to support the infantry in their steep climb. It was some two hundred feet high, and it was rocky.

Once we attacked parallel to some very high hills to clear out some enemy emplacements. We ran into machine guns, received antitank and artillery fire, and were dive-bombed.

The dive-bomber hit one disabled tank, and we lost another tank that got stuck in a wadi. It was covered by artillery and machine gun fire, and was set afire by the enemy. In all, two tanks lost and one man wounded.

What damage was done, and what amount of tanks did you lose due to mines, artillery, etc. in the last attacks?

In the first attack we lost seven; four by mines and three by antitank guns. In the second and third attacks we lost fourteen; three of those by antitank guns, and the others by artillery and mines and mechanical failures (two tanks ran together).*

[*NOTE: The objective was finally reached by the infantry, taking 133 Germans and no Italians.]

Do you know if the Diesel would be a handicap in any way?

No but they should be in line.

How were your replacements?

The replacements so far have been very good. They came from the 2nd Armored Division.

On the march, what about antiaircraft defense?

We have been very fortunate to have a battery of antiaircraft attached to us, and they have shot down three or four planes. They have the 40-mm and also the .50 caliber gun. The .50 caliber gun is a good antiaircraft weapon.

You keep plenty of distance between your vehicles?


What is that distance?

Seventy-five yards on the march. One hundred yards in bivouac.

Did your riflemen fire at planes?

Everything was fired — pistols, rifles, machine guns, and everything else.

On the recognition of planes we have a perfect system. With the antiaircraft we have a telephone set up to their command post. They always identify the planes and before we fire the flag from my command half-track is raised.

You have people who can identify these planes?

This antiaircraft unit is perfect in this respect. They have a sergeant who has not made a mistake yet. They do argue if it is a Messerschmitt 109E or a Spitfire.

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1ST LIEUTENANT THOMAS B. RUTLEDGE, 751st Tank Battalion (M), Fondouk, 12 April 1943.

One thing that I have learned: The next time we move up, before we close up on the objective, it is a good thing to look down on the ground in front of the objective, and if you see anything that looks like the enemy or enemy guns, fire away at it with canister. We were so close that with keen observation, even two or three rounds or some machine gun fire would have downed many machine guns. I believe this would save us a lot of grief afterwards. We know there are lots of mines, but when approaching the objective we seem to forget those machine guns. So, instead of covering the ground in front of the objective with machine gun fire, we thought only of the objective, which was on the hill.

Did you see any of these antitank guns?

Not a great deal; only after I got behind them.

How close were you then?

It could not have been more than thirty yards.

Did you hit it?

Yes, with the 75-mm gun. We had to get one out in a hurry, as I figured he may do some more damage. It may have been useless expenditure of ammunition, but we had been expending it before. At a time like this we were always taught to shoot to kill, and it being the first German I had seen, I thought to dispose of him was the main thing, and we did. We wanted to get the gun out of action. I saw it before I left, and it was burning, which satisfied me.

Did you go back to the gun the next day?

Yes, it was out of action.

[The camouflaged German antitank gun put out of action by Lieutenant Rutledge]
The camouflaged German antitank gun put out of action by Lieutenant Rutledge

Were you looking out the turret?


You did not button up?

No sir, not yet. The driver was buttoned up, but three shots hit the top of the cupola. The enemy is known to try to pick off the tank commander when he is sticking out. You have to have good vision all around, but as soon as I stuck my head out, I was fired on, but I do not know where it was coming from. We saw a dug-out near the members of the enemy antiaircraft crew, and we decided the fire was from there.

Then what happened?

We put a 37-mm high explosive shell in front of the dug-out, the next round went through that hole, and it exploded. They had nice dug-outs, about five or six feet deep. I saw the position of an antitank gun when I had one of my tanks hit by them the day previous. I figured the gun was facing in the opposite direction of that one. I had in mind to go down there as I thought there may be other guns in the same place, when a call came through to go back to the rallying position. I told the driver we would be going back. I gave instructions that we might be fired on. I told him to keep zig-zagging, which he did, when the antitank guns, that I had in mind, opened up. But it was not an antitank gun which got us. We found out the next day that we had hit a mine which was covered with the antitank gun fire. It was the first time I dealt with an antitank gun, or a mine, and it was a bad guess. We rolled into a little roadway and I asked the driver if we were out of action. I knew the next minute that we were and I gave the order to abandon to the right because the gun was on the left.

As we opened the door, the machine gun fire started. I went to the front of the tank to see where it was coming from, and it was coming from both sides. We flattened out and started crawling. I stayed behind the rest with a Tommy gun. The driver was leading. One of those guns saw us and when one man raised up it hit him in the tail, and another man was hit in the back and another in the shoulder. Immediately I ordered everyone to freeze themselves flat to the ground. We stayed there until dark.

What time was this?

It was about ten o'clock when we abandoned the tank.

What happened then?

Well, during the day I heard the machine guns behind us. They kept firing continuously. They never stopped. Then, there were two more which started firing from approximately the same position in our front. At dark we started crawling again and it took about two hours before we approached friendly troops. I was afraid that they would start firing on us, so I told one of my men to go within hearing distance and holler, 'Friendly patrol'. We could hear them now and then when they raised their voices. He did so, was recognized, told his story, came back to us, and we moved up. The man that was hit in the back could hobble OK. We carried him across our shoulders. The man that was hit in the leg could not walk, but he did crawl for those two hours. When this man was hit he just clenched his fist and said 'I am hit', and I knew he was hit.

After I got in with friendly troops, I inquired as to how close the first aid station was for the three men. I reported to the aid station so that they would know exactly who they were and from what unit they came. We walked on further and I wanted to get to a telephone. They told me to go to the British command car, but the line was not open, so I asked if we could sleep there. So we slept along side his vehicle until six o'clock in the morning.

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