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Tank destroyer doctrine US .pdf



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Seek, Strike, and Destroy:
U.S. Army Tank Destroyer Doctrine
in World War tf
by Dr. Christopher
Combat

Studies

R. Gabel
Institute

U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas 66027-6900

September

1985

FORE WORD
In the seventy years that have passed since the tank first appeared, antitank combat has presented one of the greatest chalfenges in land warfare. Dramatic improvements
in tank technology
and doctrine over the years have precipitated equally innovative developments
in the antitank field.
One cycle in this ongoing arms race occurred during the early years of World War II when the
U.S. Army sought desperately to find an antidote to the vaunted German blitzkrieg. Against the
frenzied background of global war, a small group of professional officers devised the tank destroyer
as the Army’s answer to the tank.
This Leavenworth
Paper analyzes the origins of the tank destroyer concept, evaluates the doctrine and equipment with which tank destroyer units fought, and assesses the effectiveness of the
tank destroyer in battle. To the professional
soldier of the 198Os, the tank destroyer experience
yields some important lessons concerning the pitfalls of formulating
doctrine. The thoughtful
reader
will also gain some specific insights into the problem of antitank warfare, a consideration
that is
as vital to the U.S. Army today as it was half a century ago.

ROBERT W. RISCASSI
Lieutenant General, USA
Commandant

COL Louis
Professor

John

D. F. Frasch6

of Combined Arms
Dr. Roger J. Spiller

f. Morrison
Father

Warfare

Professor of fvfdttsry
Donald W. Smythe

-----El

History

Curriculum
Supervisor
LTC Roy R. Stephenson
Research

Committee
Dr.
Dr
Dr.
Dr.
Dr.
Dr.

LTC John A. Hixson. Chief
LTC Robert D. Ramsey 111
MAJ(PI Michael W. Dunn
MAJ Scott A. McMlchael
MAJ Andrew N. Morris
CPT Thomas P. Odcm
Teaching

Comm!ttee
SFC Robert R. Cordeli
MSG Paul E. Holt
Dr. Robert F Baumann
Dr. Jerold E. Brown
Dr. Christopher
R. Gabel

LTC George L. Tupa. Chief
LTC David R. Durr
LTC Kenneth R. Pierce
MAJ Gary I3 Griffm
MAJ Claude R. Sasso
M;fFtary

History

Education

CommBee

MAJ IJO” M, Prewitt.
Dr. Jack J. Gifford
Dr. Larry Roberts

LTC Michael E. Hall, Chief
MAJ Frederick A. Eiserman
MAJ George J. Mordica II
ffjsrorical

Robert H. Berlin
Gary J. k!JOrQ%
George W. Gawrych
Thomas M. Huber
Samuel J. Lewis
William
G Robertson

Services

Committee
Manly”
Do”a,d

Dr. Lawrence A. Yates, Chief
Ehzabeth R. Snake, Librarian

ARNG

A. Edwards. EdItor
L Gilmore. Editor

Leavenworth
Papers are published
by the Combat Studies
Institute,
U.S. Army Command and General
Staff College, Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas 66027-6900.
The views expressed
in this publication
are
those of the author and not necessarily those of the Department
of
Defense or any element thereof.
Leavenworth
Papers are avaitable
from the Superintendent
of Documents, U.S. Government
Printing
Office, Washington,
DC 20402.

Staff
MSG Danny
SSG Pafrtcia

G. CarlSOn
E Clow%rS
Sharon

Marth%
Carolyn
E Torres

A. Van Sand?
0. Conway

Leavenworth
0195 3457

Papers

US ISSN

Library

of Congress

Cataloging-in-Publication

Gabel, Christopher R. (Christopher
Seek, strike, and destroy.
(Leavenworth papers; no. 12)
“September 1985.”
Bibliography: p.
1. World War, 1939-1945-Tank
destroyers-United
States-History.
II. Series.
D793.633 1935
940.54’12’73

For

sale by the Superintendent

of Documenta,

U.S.

Richard),

Data
1954-

warfare. 2. Tank
I. Title.

Government

85-21296

Printing

Office,

Washington,

D.C.

20402

Illustrations

...........................................................

V

Introduction

...........................................................

1

1. Antitank

Evolution

1918-1941

....................................

2. The Synthesis of Tank Destroyer Concepts
3. Tank Destroyers Under Fire ................
4. The European Theater: A Pyrrhic
5. Conclusion

Victory

........................
; ......................

.........................
..t .................

.....................................

3
19
33
49
67

Notes ..................................................................

73

Bibliography

85

..........................................................

...
111

~lllustra tions
Figures
1938 ...................................

5

Defense proposal, 1936 ...................................

7

1. Proposed infantry
2. Antitank
3. Triangular

division,

division,

1941 maneuvers ...............................

4. GHQ antitank

group, 1941 maneuvers

5. Tank Attacker

Detachment

.............................

No. 1, Carolinas

maneuvers, 1941 .....

13
15
16

6. Tank destroyer battalion,

heavy (SP), 1942 ........................

21

7. Tank destroyer battalion

(SP), 1943 ................................

45

8. Tank destroyer battalion

(towed), 1943 .............................

47

V

On 3 December 1941, the War Department inaugurated a military concept unique to the U.S. Army-the
tank destroyer. The term “tank destroyer”
(TD) evolved into a broad concept that included personnel, equipment, and
units alike. Born of a desperate need to counter the mechanized might of
the so-called blitzkrieg, tank destroyer doctrine involved the pooling of anticechelon and higher and the
tank weapons into battalion%
gimental-size groups or
massing of those battal
ns incorporated
even brigades. Spe&
protection. Tank
great mobility a
nirit intended to
destroyer perso
sld. The tank
counter the ta
z destroyers
f traditional
tle to the
her crush-

fields of 1

TD batZr than the aggressive,

misuse the tank
talions and utilizing
antiarmor role.

While each of these explanations for the failure of the tank destroyer
concept has validity, none of them reaches the core of the problem: tank
destroyer doctrine was fundamentally flawed. It is the purpose of this paper
to show that the creators of the tank destroyer concept formulated their
doctrine with an imperfect understanding
of combined arms mechanized
1

2
warfare and thus created a doctrinal solution for a problem that did not
exist as perceived. Not surprisingly,
field commanders who received tank
destroyer units refused to implement a doctrine that failed to account for
the realities of the World War II battlefield. The inflexibility
of tank destroyer doctrine resulted in its abandonment and led to the employment of
tank destroyers in extradoctrinal
roles, albeit with a surprising degree of
success. The flaws inherent in tank destroyer doctrine, rather than the misuse of tank destroyers by higher commanders or deficiencies in equipment,
prevented the tank destroyers from fulfilling
their intended role. That the
tank destroyers performed yeoman service in spite of doctrinal defects is to
the credit of the American soldiers who, in essence, created a new doctrine
in the field.

CHRISTOPHER
R. GABEL
Combat Studies Institute
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

Antitank Evolution
1978-194’7
The advent of the armored fighting vehicle on the battlefields of World
War I symbolized the beginning of a new age in ground warfare. The first
tanks were clumsy, unreliable, difficult
to operate, and capable of only
limited participation
in a combined arms team. Nonetheless, advocates of
the tank believed that it possessed the capability to restore decisive maneuver to the trench-bound battlefield. First introduced by the British in the
Battle of the Somme (19161, tanks eventually found their way into French
and American armies as well.
The appearance of tanks in the Allied order of battle prompted the Germans to develop special means of countering them. German troops found
that the lumbering British and French tanks were relatively immune to
small-arms fire, but that no tank could survive a direct hit from artillery.
Thus, the Germans employed 77-mm field guns in their forward defensive
zones to serve in both antitank and close support roles. Some divisions
maintained “flying squads” of 77-mm guns as a mobile antitank reserve.
The Germans also developed a special armor-piercing rifle round and even
designed a 13-mm antitank rifle.’
Inasmuch as the Germans manufactured
only about twenty combatworthy tanks during World War I and utilized another dozen captured
French and British models, the Allies felt no need to develop a specialized
antitank capability. A British pamphlet on antitank measures that the U.S.
War Department
reprinted and distributed
makes this clear: “It is not
considered either practicable or necessary, at any rate for the present, to
introduce any special anti-tank gun; our existing artillery resources are
regarded as being fully adequate to deal with tanks.“2 Although small-arms
fire, aircraft, friendly tanks, and obstacles should all be considered as antitank resources, “experience shows that artillery fire forms the most effective
defence against tanks, and that all other arms and weapons can only be
regarded as subsidiary means.“3 The manual suggested that for antitank
purposes artillery should be positioned in depth and should include mobile
gun sections designated to reinforce threatened sectors at the first sign of
an enemy tank attack,* much in the manner of the German “flying
batteries.”
3

4

Significantly,
the pamphlet made clear that the tank’s sole purpose was
to support the infantry, which constituted the main threat in any attack:
Tanka unaccompanied by infantry cannot achieve decisive success; they must
be supported by infantry, who done can clear and hold ground gained . . . . If
the tanks succeed in penetrating the line, the [friendly] infantry must hold
out and concentrate all their efforts on stopping the a&ance of thd enemy’s
infantry, while the hostile tanks are dealt with by our artillery.
The defeat of the enemy’s infantry
in all plans for anti-tank defence.5

’

must therefore be the first consideration

This 1918 pamphlet expressed twa concepts that would become part of U.S.
Army doctrine for the next twenty years. The first concept concerned the
role of the tank. The 1920 amendment to the National Defense Act abolished
the autonomous’ Tank Corps and assigned all tanks to the Infantry. A 1922
field manual stated unequivocably that the tank existed solely’ “to facilitate
the uninterrupted advance of the rifleman in the attack.“6 The second concept followed from the first: enemy attacks involving
tanks could be
countered by basically traditional means and did not necessitate a significantly specialized response.
Events in Europe during the interwar years did little to alert the U.S.
Army to the growing threat posed by the tank. The largest European
conflict of that period, the Spanish Civil War, witnessed the employment of
tanks, but without decisive results. Some early antitank guns, in combination with traditional measures and expedients such as the Molotov cocktail
(a hand-thrown incendiary device), seemed equal to the task of stopping
the tank. Following
that war, tank designers in Europe significantly
upgraded tank capabilities,
whereas antitank
developers foundered in
complacency.7
During the interwar period, great strides were also made in the evolution of tank doctrine. The British Army, prompted by such theorists as J.
F. C. Fuller and B. H. Liddell Hart, was the first to experiment with largescale mechanized forces, until budgetary and other constraints curtailed the
continued development of armor doctrine. In Germany, the rearmament
program instigated by Adolf Hitler in 1935 brought Heinz Guderian the
opportunity to create the first panzer (tank) divisions, which would in time
constitute the major challenge to American antitank capabilities. The panzer
division was much more than just a force of massed tanks; it was a combined arms team centered around the tank. Each division included a panzer
brigade, a motorized infantry brigade, a motorized artillery regiment, plus
motorized reconnaissance, engineer, antitank
and antiaircraft
battalions>
Thus; the panzer division was capable of close integration among the arms,
but at the tank’s level of mobility, not that of the infantryman.
Moreover,
the panzer division could be broken down into combined arms battle groups,
each one task-organized to fulfill a particular mission in combat. Guderian
advocated the use of massed panzer divisions to strike at strategic objectives
deep in the enemy rear.8
Compared to German interwar developments in armor, American prog
ress in the field of antitank warfare lagged badly. Even so, the problem of

8 37-mm gun8
Figure 1. Proposed infantry

division,

1938

stopping the tank was not completely ignored. The 1937 field tests undertaken by the 2d Division resulted a year later in recommendations that the
Army adopt a triangular (three-regiment) infantry division as its basic fighting formation (see figure 1). The recommendations included placing an eightgun antitank company in each regiment.9 Although two years would pass
before the War Department acted on those proposals, the 1937 tests had a
profound effect upon Brigadier General Lesley J. McNair, 2d Division’s chief
of staff and director of the tests. McNair was destined to become intimately
involved with both the organization of the U.S. Army for war and the development of its antitank policies.
In another positive development,
the Command and General Staff
School at Fort Leavenworth published, for instructional purposes, a comprehensive antitank
manual, First appearing in 1936 as Antitank
Defense
(Tentative), it was revised in 1939 and retitled Antimechanized
Defense
(Tentative). Antitank Defense postulated the existence not only of regimental
antitank companies similar to those proposed as a result of the 1937 division tests but also a divisional antitank battalion. The manual advocated
an antitank defense-in-depth with the regimental antitank elements providing protection to the frontline troops and the antitank battalion guarding
the division’s flanks, protecting noninfantry
elements, or reinforcing the
regimental
antitank
forces, according to the situation.
A fundamental
premise of the manual was that the divisional
antitank battalion must
remain grouped and intact, to be massed where the tank threat was
greatest. Antitank Defense proposed that antitank elements, especially the

6

Lesley J. McNair, director of 1x37
Army field tests and later the head
of AGF

divisional battalion, should be motorized and provided with reconnaissance
assets so that a minimum of forces would be tied down to routine tasks,
freeing the maximum possible forces to be held in readiness to meet the
unexpected (see figure 2) .I0 The antitank doctrine expressed in Antitank
Defense was sound, clearly expressed, and feasible, if implemented with
adequate weapons. Although not an official part of Armywide doctrine,
Antitank Defense served as the basis for antitank instruction at the Army’s
highest tactical school. The commandant of the Command and General
Staff School who authorized the 1939 revision entitled Antimechanized
Defense was none other than General McNair.
The Army’s official doctrine, as expressed in the 1939 Field Service
Regulations,
conformed in general to the precepts of Antitank
Defense.
Although the regulations perpetuated the World War I concept of utilizing
artillery, aviation, friendly armored vehicles, and mines as antitank assets,
it also specified that “the antitank cannon is of first importance in antimechanized defense. . . .“ll It adopted the premise, found also in Antitank
Defense, that local defense was the task of organic regimental antitank
elements, and that the protection of the command as a whole was the responsibility of yet-to-be-created antitank units controlled by higher headquarters.12
Thus, by 1939, Army antitank doctrine included some sound fundamental principles, even though the Army had yet to establish the antitank
units themselves. Nor did the Army possess a real antitank gun when Antitank Defense and the 1939 Field Service Regulations were written. In planning for fiscal year 1939, the general staff made a conscious decision to

forego normal research and development procedures in order to procure some
kind of existing antitank
weapon immediately.
As a consequence, the
Ordnance Department found itself responsible for producing a copy of the
German PAK 36, a 37-mm antitank weapon that was already nearing obsolescence. Production of the American version (which was undertaken without
regard to patents or licensing laws) began in early 1940 and yielded some
2,500 weapons by the time the United States went to war.13 Meanwhile,
.5Q-caliber machine guns and antiquated field guns of 37-mm and 75-mm
would also be pressed into antitank service.14
Germany’s invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 signaled the beginning of World War II and alerted the world to the potential of mechanized
forces. Six panzer divisions spearheaded the pincers that enveloped and
crushed the Polish Army in its frontier positions and brought the campaign
to a close within a month. Western analysts were impressed by the socalled blitzkrieg, but most shared the attitude of the French high command
that German successes of such magnitude were unlikely to be repeated
against a first-rate opponent.
In the United States, the outbreak of war in Europe occasioned the
beginnings of rearmament. General George C. Marshall, who became Army
Chief of Staff on the same day that the war began, ordered the Army to
adopt the triangular division that had been tested in 1937. As implemented
in 1939, the triangular
division’s antitank’ assets were limited to twentyfour antitank guns under the control of division artillery.15 This action
raised the question of which arm was responsible for antitank combat, inas-

I

I

1

I

I

I

I

Figure 2. A&tank

Defense

proposal,

I

I
1936

8

much as the Field Seruiee
uEa~ians stated that antitank defense was
primarily the concern of the I
ntry.l@ The .division of authority between
Infantry and Field Artillery paralyzed the development af American antitank capabilities just when the need for haste was becoming manifest.
If any event could have galvanized the Army into seeing after its antitank capabilities, it should have been the stunning defeat of France in the
spring of 1940. At this time, the German armed forces enjoyed no significant superiority in numbers af divisions over the western Allies (about 140
each) and were actually inferior in numbers of tanks (approximately 2,200
of the Allied tanks were scattered by battalto 3,QOO),17However, the
ions along the frost for
Id War I-style infantry support, whereas the
German armor was gathered together into ten panzer divisions
French antitank doctrine was unequal to the task af stopping massed
panzers. The French clung ta the World War I tenet that the tank existed
to support the infantry and failed to consider the significance of a panzer
division predicated upon massed tanks. Accordingly, French antitank doetrine called for the frontline infantry to allow the enemy tanks to pass by
and then ta rise up and engage the enemy infantry, which supposedly constituted the true threat. Meanwhile, the enemy tanks, meaningless without
their infantry,
would be destroyed by antitank guns organized in three
echelons.18

The Z-mm

antitank

French faith
manual, “At the
ing the last war,
infantry division

gun, the Army’s

first specialized

antitank

weapon

in the antitank gun was absolute. To quote a French field
present time, the antitank gun confronts the tank, as durthe machine gun confranted the infantry.‘Q
Each French
possessed fifty-eight antitank guns, yielding a ratio of ten

9
antitank guns per kilometer of front. The French calculated that this concentration could cope with fifty enemy tanks per kilometer.20
Unfortunately, the main German panzer thrusts that crossed the frontier
in 1940 struck at selected spots with concentrations of up to one hundred
tanks per kilometer. Seven of the ten panzer divisions sprang through the
Ardennes forest and shattered the weakest sector of the Allied front, along
the Meuse River. Task-organized into battle groups, the massed panzer divisions punched through the linear French defenses and pressed on to reach
the English Channel within two weeks of the start of the campaign. The
pace of the panzer advance prevented the Allies from regaining their equilibrium or restoring a front line. Due largely to the efforts of the panzer
divisions, the finest elements of the British and French Armies were either
destroyed or pinned against the sea. Final. defeat and capitulation of the
French nation followed within a month.
The destruction of the French Army, widely regarded as the finest in
western Europe if not the world, shocked Americans as the defeat of Poland
had failed to do. Congress authorized the induction of the National Guard
and Reserves in August and in September passed the nation”s first peacetime selective service act. The Army implemented its Protective Mobilization
Plan, which involved the activation of four full field armies headed by a
general headquarters (GHQ). The GHQ chief of staff, who was responsible
for organizing
and training
the ground forces, was Brigadier
General
McNair (McNair would become a lieutenant general within a year).
To Americans, it seemed clear that the principal agent of the Allies’
demise had been the German panzers. The underestimation of armored warfare that had prevailed in the U.S. Army was displaced by an exaggerated
fear of the tank that overlooked Allied strategic blunders in France and
obscured the combined arms nature of the panzer division. A survivor of
the French collapse reported simply that “the main cause of our failure to
hold the Germans was the lack of efficient and sufficiently numerous antitank weapons. . . . Could the tanks have been stopped, the whole blitz
would have crumbled.“21 Reports had it that 6,000 German tanks had
simply inundated the French and, British. 22 Field Artillery Journal maintained that some of these panzers were monsters of seventy tons,23 more
than three times the actual weight of the large& German tank in 1940.
American officers had cause for alarm, if not desperation, for as late
as the summer of 1940, few of the artillerymen
charged with antitank
defense had ever seen a tank in action, let alone a mechanized formation,
nor had they ever fired their inadequate weapons at a fast-moving target.24
The assumption took hold that the infantry division was helpless in the
face of a panzer attack, and some artillery
officers discussed antitank
combat in terms of last-ditch fighting by isolated antitank batteries.25 The
Field Artillery
apparently assumed that its antitank guns were intended
for the defense of the artillery and not of the division as a whole.
Although individual
officers had become greatly concerned with the
problem of stopping the tank, official reaction to the panzer triumph in

10
France was somewhat less than wholehearted.
In the autumn of 1940,
infantry
regiments in a division were at last authorized an antitank
company apiece.26 These three companies, plus the existing antitank
elements under division artillery, raised the triangular division’s antitank
complement !&om twenty-four to sixty-eight guns, only ten more than the
number of pieces found in the discredited French division. The War Department issued a training memo on 23 September that recommended posting a
minimum of antitank assets in the front line and holding the majority of
guns in mobile reserve.27 The new Field Service ReguZutions published in
early 1941 reemphasized the importance of maintaining a defense-in-depth:
Employment of antitank guns is based on a minimum of guns in position
initially to cover obstacles and as a first echelon of defense, and a maximum
of guns as a mobile reserve. Based on information
of hostile mechanized
farces, reserve guns are moved rapidly to previously reconnoitered locations
and so disposed in depth as to permit timely and powerful reinforcement of
areas threatened by hostile mechanized attack.28

In fact, Field Seruiee Regulations of 1941 had little more to offer on antitank warfare than had the 1939 edition. The scheme proposed in Antitank
Defense, with its divisional antitank battalion backing up the regimental
antitank companies, remained auperior to official doctrine.
In terms of actually creating competent and confident antitank units,
little was accomplished in late 1940 and early 1941. The disorders resulting
from the induction of civilian components hindered training of all sorts, as
did the shortage of adequate equipment. Much antitank training took place
with simulated weapons. The most serious problem was the continued division of branch authority aver antitank matters. Neither Infantry nor Field
Artillery embraced the antitank task as its own, meaning that there was
no one agency to pursue doctrinal developments or provide training guidance to the field units. So far as the War Department knew, VI Corps
was the only higher headquarters in the entire Army that issued any antitank training instructions.29
On 12 April 1941, General McNair was moved to remark: ‘“It is beyond
belief that so little could be done on the [antitank] question in view of all
that has happened and is happening abroad. I for one have missed no
opportunity to hammer for something real in the way of antitank defense,’
but so far have gotten nowhere. I have no reason now to feel encouraged
but can only hope this apathy will not continue indefinitely.“30
The Qperations and Training
Division (G3) of the War Department
General Staff, headed by Brigadier General Harry L. Twaddle, made an
attempt to break the logjam by hosting an antitank conference on 15 April.
In attendance were representatives from Infantry, Field Artillery, Armored
Force, Cavalry, Coast Artillery, GHQ, and War Plans Division. In general,
the attendees concurred on the need ta expedite the development of antitank
capabilities and agreed that divisional antitank battalions would soon be
authorized, but the conference failed to establish a consensus as to which

General
of the Army George
C.
Marshal!, who was deeply involved in
pre-World War tl force devekopment

arm should be responsible for antitank developments. The Infantry representative s’tated that his arm should continue to administer to antitank defense
because it possessed the “essential background and experience”‘-a curious
argument when one considers the Infantry’s unimpressive record of antitank
development. Field Artillery claimed an interest on the grounds that it controlled the weapons most suitable to antitank combat. (In fact, antiaircraft
guns, which came from Coast Artillery, not Field Artillery, would prove to
be the best interim antitank weapons.) Cavalry also entered a bid for antitank responsibility, believing itself a branch that could ‘“readily adapt itself
to assuming what promise/d] to become a larger and larger task.” (In other
words, Cavalry was an arm in search of a mission, due to the refusal of
its current chief to admit that the day of the horse had passed.) The
Armored, Force perceived antitank defense to be antithetical to its offensive
philosophy and declined any interest in assuming responsibility. GHQ testified that the number of antitank guns in exiating formations was adequate,
but that their dispersal among several echelons rendered them ineffective.
To remedy this situation,
GHQ proposed that all antitank
elements be
removed from the line units and concentrated under a separate GHQ Antitank Force. In the end, G3 recommended to the Army Chief of Staff,
General MarshaH, that Infantry. exercise jurisdiction over antitank matters
until such a time as an official armored arm was established, whereupon
Arnmr would assume responsibility,
presumably whether Armor wanted to
or not31

General Andrew
0. Bruce, head of
the Planning Branch, a think tank for
antitank warfare

At this juncture, General Marshall’s patience ran out. A year earlier,
he had reached the same impasse with regard to mechanized forces. His
response in 1940 had been to withdraw all tanks from the existing arms
and place them under the authority of a new “quasi-arm,” the Armored
Force. Marshall opted for a similar policy with antitank matters. On 14
May 1941, he instructed G3, War Department General Staff, to bypass the
arms and assume the lead in antitank development:
At the risk af placing G-3 in the operating field, I believe that far the solution
of this problem you shauid take energetic and positive steps to push this
matter as fast as humanly possible. The subject should be attacked with
imagination and untiring effort. I believe that it is a function of the General
Staff and should be carried through in your of&e. I do not want the question
of another branch or arm brought tip at this time.82

General Marshall went on to direct that G3 establish “a small planning
and exploring branch” to study unsolved problems such as antitank warfare. G3 activated the Planning
Branch on the following
day, placing
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew D. Bruce in charge.
Eleven days after its inception, Bruce’s Planning Branch held a small
antitank conference of its own. The conferees reaffirmed the need for a.
divisional antitank battalion (to be formed out of division artillery’s antitank battery and platoons) to complement the regimental antitank eom.panies. Accordingly,
on 24 June 1941, the War Department ordered the
prompt activation of an antitank battalion in each division, in time for

‘

13
participation
in summer maneuvers. 33 Thus, the scheme first advanced in
1936 by Antitank Defense was at last realized: antitank companies in the
regiments would be backed up by an antitank battalion under division
control.
The antitank battalions activated by the divisions during the summer
of 1941 varied considerably in composition. This was due, in part, to the
fact that National Guard divisions remained in the four-regiment %quare”
configuration
and did not adopt the “triangular”
format until after Pearl
Harbor (see figure 3). Typically, the battalions consisted of three to five
batteries withdrawn from division artillery and were equipped with various
mixes of 3?-mm, 75mm, and simulated guns.s*
By 1941, however, Antitank Defense was no longer the latest word in
countering armor. Major (later General) Albert C!. Wedemeyer, a graduate
of the German Kriegsakadenie,
proposed another train of development in
an article published simultaneously by hfantry
Journal and Field Artillery
Journal. Given the tendency of German panzer divisions to mass rapidly
against a selected point of the defenders line, Wedemeyer considered it vital
that antitank forces also be capable of concentrating in critical areas of
the front. ““The bulk of antitank
units [shauld] therefore [be] pooled in
G.H.Q.,‘* held in highly mobile, centrally located three-battalion groups, an
attached to the field armies and corps threatened by tank attack. He
proposed that the primary weapon of these formations should be mobile,
heavily gunned ‘“tank chasers.“’ Wedemeyer suggested that medium tanks
might fill that role.35

Division antitank component:
60 37-mm AT guns
8 75-mm guns

37.mm
Figure 3. Triangular division,

75-m&
1941 maneuvers

37.mm

37-mm

14
As early as 14 April 1941, General Marshall began thinking
along
similar lines. On that date, he issued a memo to 63, War
epartment
General Staff, directing that “‘prompt consideration be given to the creation
of highly mobile antitank-antiaircraft
units as Corps and Army troops for
use in meeting mechanized units. These units to be in addition to organic
antitank weapons.‘y36 The representatives at the 15 April conference, as well
as Bruce’s Planning Branch, anticipated that such formations would indeed
be established.“7
The concept of gathering antitank assets to the upper echelons was
very compatible with the policy of “streamlining and pooling” that underlay
the U.S. Army’s organization for World War II. Streamlining and pooling
aimed at making the triangular division as lean as possible by removing
any assets not needed for the division’s basic mission and pooling those
assets at higher echelons, from which they could be attached to the division
according to prevailing combat conditions. This policy applied especially to
antitank
and antiaircraft
formations
that were inherently
defensive in
character.38
The concept of maintaining
powerful upper-echelon antitank units can
be viewed as a logical extrapolation of the Antitank Defense system. Just
as Antitank Defense’s divisional battalion supported the regimental antitank
companies, so, too, would the corps, field army, and GHQ antitank units
backstop the divisional antitank forces.
General McNair was a firm believer in streamlining
and pooling, as
well as in active antitank defense. On 8 August 1941, he directed Third
Army to organize three provisional
GHQ antitank groups (regiment-size
formations) for participation
in the autumn army-versus-army
maneuvers
(see figure 4). As raw material, Third Army utilized four 37-mm antitank
battalions and five 75mm battalions drawn from various artillery units.
Each group consisted of three antitank battalions, a scout car platoon for
reconnaissance,
three engineer platoons, and three rifle platoons. The
groups, which would be attached at the field army echelon, were trained to
fulfill an “offensive
role” that included vigorous reconnaissance,
rapid
movement to contact armored units before their tanks could deploy, and
the destruction of enemy armor with massed gunfire.3s
During September, Second Army faced Third Army in the largest field
exercises in the nation’s history. Second Army controlled I Armored Corps
(two armored divisions) in the apening maneuver, and Third Army commanded the three GHQ antitank groups (in addition to the antitank forces
in each division). At nearly every turn, the armored forces found themselves
frustrated by antitank guns, a development that General McNair noted in
his after-action critique: ‘“An outstanding feature of the maneuver was the
success attained in antitank defense, due primarily to guns. While terrain
hampered armored operations, it seems clear that the mobile antitank gun
defense now being developed gives promise of marked success.f’40
The results of tank-versus-antitank
exercises were not as clear as
General McNair implied. Significantly,
only one battalion out of the three

Figure 4. GHQ antitank

group,

1941 maneuvers

antitank groups participated
in a major antitank action during the two
weeks of maneuvers The vast majority of tanks “destroyed” fell to the
antitank units organic ta the divisions, not to the mobile groups, In addition, armored force personnel were quick to point out that the maneuvers’
rule book was slanted in favor of the antitank, granting 37-mm guns and
even .50-caliber machine guns an unwarranted
degree of effectiveness
against armor. The rules also stated that the only way a tank could
cLdestroy” an antitank gun was by “overrunning”
it, a dangerous proposition, indeed, given the exaggerated effectiveness of antitank weapons as
prescribed by the rules. Observers noted that armor’s doctrinal deficiencies,
particuIarly its tendency to operate in all-tank formations, were as much as
anything responsible for armor’s frustration. They also reported that faith
in the mobile antitank groups was lacking.*1 In sum, the Louisiana maneuvers demonstrated, if anything, the value of divisional antitank assets fighting in a relatively
static mode and the need for the Armored Force to
rethink its doctrine and force structure. In spite of General McNair’s enthusiasm, the mobile antitank groups did not prove themselves in Louisiana.
The Carolinas maneuvers of November 1941 provided another tankantitank test. Red Army (IV Corps) commanded I Armored Corps and its
two armored divisions. Blue Army (First Army) received the three GHQ
antitank groups and organized three more of its own: Tank Attacker-l (TAl), TA-2, and TA-3. TA-1, the most powerful of the three, included 93d Anti-

16
tank Battalion,
a provisional
formation
armed with experimental
selfpropelled guns (obsolete 75-mm field pieces mounted on half-tracks). Qther
elements of TA-1 included an infantry battalion, a field artillery regiment,
a separate antitank company, a tank company, engineers, antiaircraft guns,
and observation aviation, which made TA-1 a powerful, combined arms force
in its own right (see figure 5). First Army directed that “the action of the
detachment ETA-11 will always be offensive, moving to meet hostile threats
and to destroy hostile forces before they can have decisive effect on the
Army’s operations.“@
TA-1 had its moment of glory on 20 November when it received orders
to destroy the Red 69th Armored Regiment which, in company with Headquarters, 1st Armored Division, was stranded miles behind Blue lines near
Albemarle, North Carolina. Supported by one of the GHQ antitank groups,
TA-1 attacked the armored bivouac at 0615, just as the tanks were organizing a breakout attempt. Blue antitank guns quickly positioned themselves
along every escape route and easily “destroyed” the Red tanks attempting
to overrun them. Lacking infantry, the 69th could do little but charge the
antitank guns with their tanks. The 93d Antitank Battalion drove its selfpropehed weapons directly into the bivouac with guns blazing. The 69th
disintegrated, forcing the division commander to flee in a liaison aircraft.43
Blue antitank
forces as a whole performed better in the Carolinas
maneuvers than they had in Louisiana. In one six-day exercise, the two
Red armored divisions “lost” 844 tanks, 82 more than their combined tables
of organization called for. (Tanks “destroyed” in the maneuvers each day
returned to action at midnight.)

75 and 37-mm
SF

Figure 5. Tank Attacker

37mm

Detachment

Na. 1, Carolinas

maneuvers,

1941

17
Once more, however, a complete explanation of armor’s problems in the
Carolinas maneuvers involved far more than the antitank units it faced.
As one observer noted, “It is believed success of AT units due to piecemeal
[armored] attacks . . . rather than to AT units’ effectiveness.“** Of the experimental 93d Antitank Battalion, an observer report disclosed: “Its success in
operations was the result of improper employment of armored units and
the energy shown by its commander rather than fram a proper conception
of its employment on the part of higher unit commanders. . . .“** Observers
noted repeatedly that the lack of sufficient infantry in armored units was a
principal factor behind the high tank losses. The head of the Armored
Force, Major General Jacob L. Devers, was even more succinct: “We were
licked by a set of umpire rules.“*@
The Armored Force took its embarrassment to heart and, following the
maneuvers, developed a new divisional organization that increased the proportion of infantry to tanks and significantly
improved armor’s capability
to fight in balanced, combined arms teams. Antitank forces, having won
an apparent victory in the maneuvers, would not undergo a similar critical
reappraisal.
On 3 December 1941, Generals Marshall, MeNair, and others met with
the Secretary of ‘War to discuss the lessons learned in the autumn maneuvers McNair pointed out that the Armored Force, which had admittedly
been mishandled on occasion, failed to achieve decisive results against the
Army’s new antitank forces. He recommended that the development of antitank forces be stressed.47
In fact, the War Department had already charted out an enormous antitank program. On 18 August, Lieutenant Colonel Bruce of the Planning
Branch released an estimate, based on a fifty-five-division
army, calling
for 220 antitank battalions: 1 organic to each division, 55 pooled at corps
and field army echelons, and 110 battalions as GHQ troops.48 With four
antitank battalions for each division, this program would have committed
roughly one-fourth of the Army’s ground fighting elements to the antitank
role! A meeting in General Marshall’s office on 7 October approved four
battalions per division as a planning estimate and suggested the immediate
activation of sixty-three battalions. Perhaps the most far-reaching result of
this meeting was the decision to rename antitank battalions “tank destroyers,‘* for psychological reasons.49
The date 27 November 1941 was a watershed in the history of the
Army’s antitank forces A War Department letter of that date ordered the
activation of fifty-three tank destroyer battalions under the direct control of
GHQ, not of the line units. A further directive of 3 December removed all
battalions from their parent arms, redesignated them tank
existing antitan
destroyer battalions, and placed them under GHQ as well.50 Battalions withdrawn from infant.ry divisions received numbers in the 6008, those from
armored divisions in the 7009, and those from field artillery units in the
he 93d Antitank Battalion of Albemarle fame, for example, became
the 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion,)51

18
The letter of 27 November also ordered the activation
of a Tank
Destroyer Tactical and Firing Center under War Department supervision.
Lieutenant Colonel Bruce, late of the Planning Branch, took command of
the center when it commenced operations at Fort Meade, Maryland. The
center’s role was to serve as a developmental agency for doctrine and equipment and to provide centralized training for tank destroyer personnel and
units.52
The significance of these developments was profound. By creating what
amounted to a new arm of the service, the War Department surmounted
the lethargy and apathy that had existed in the present arms and had
stunted progress in the antitank field for so long. Also, by centralizing authority for antitank matters, the War Department assured the systematic development of tank destroyer doctrine, equipment, and training.
On the other hand, the directives of 27 November and 3 December
eliminated the divisional antitank battalions by converting them into GHQ
tank destroyer battalions. This left the division with the regimental antitank companies as its only organic antitank assets. The 1941 maneuvers
had clearly and repeatedly proven the value of the divisional battalions,
whereas the GHQ antitank forces had yet to conclusively demonstrate their
worth against a doctrinally sound armored force. Moreover, the creation of
a tank destroyer quasi-arm eliminated
day-to-day contact between the
Army’s antitank forces and the other arms. The tank destroyers would
develop their doctrine and train in relative isolation. Throughout its existence, the tank destroyer establishment would suffer from the amibiguity of
its relationship to the rest of the Army.
The tank destroyer was born without an established doctrine or adequate equipment. Unknown to its creators, the tank destroyer force had
less than a year to come of age before being thrust into combat.

The Synthesis of
Tank Destroyer Concepts

2

w

The year 1942 saw the tank destroyer program come to fruition. The
accomplishments
of that year included the finalization
of official tank destroyer tables of organization, the formulation of a tank destroyer doctrine,
the development of specialized tank destroyer equipment, and the establishment of training facilities and programs for tank destroyer personnel. By
the end of the calendar year, tank destroyer forces were engaged in battle.
Two agencies were primarily responsible for the rapid development of
the tank destroyer concept. One of these was Army Ground Forces (AGF),
which on 9 March 1942 supplanted GHQ as the primary organization responsible for organizing and training ground combat elements. Lieutenant
General McNair, by this time acknowledged as the father of the tank destroyers, commanded AGF. Thus, MeNair bore the ultimate responsibility
for tank destroyer organization, doctrine, and training,1 The second agency
involved was the Tank Destroyer Tactical and Firing Center under Colonel
Bruce, which did the actual work of drawing up organizational charts, preparing field manuals, and training the tank destroyer troops.
Gne of the fundamental assumptions underlying the tank destroyer concept as it emerged in 1942 was the idea that stopping the tank had become
a special problem that demanded a specialized response above and beyond
general defensive measures. To General McNair, the solution to this problem
was clear:
‘~he tank was introduced to protect against automatic small arms fire, which
was developed so greatly during and since the [First] World War. Its answer
is fire against which the tank does not protect-the
antitank gun. That this
answer failed [against the Germans in 1940] was due primarily to the pitifully
inadequate number and power of French and British antitank guns, as well
as their incorrect organization.2

McNair emphatically believed that the antidote to
own tanks: “Certainly it is poor economy to use a
destroy another tank when the job can be done by
as much. Thus the friendly armored force is freed
target, the opposing force as a whole . . . . “3
Therefore, the task confronting
and Firing Center was not simply

the tank was not one’s
$35,000 medium tank to
a gun costing a fraction
to attack a more proper

Bruce and the Tank Destroyer Tactical
one of finding a way to stop tanks, but
19

20
rather one of developing a mode of antitank combat that freed other friendly
forces for offensive operations. To meet this challenge, the tank destroyer
creators adopted mass, mobility, firepower, and aggressiveness as the qualities that would enable tank destroyer elements to fulfill their mission.
The first concrete accomplishment of the Tank Destroyer Tactical and
Firing Center was the issuance of tables of organization for the tank destroyer battalion, which became the basic tank destroyer unit. Fortunately, a
prototypical tank destroyer battalion had been in existence since the summer
of 1941, in the form of the 93d Antitank Battalion (redesignated the 893d
Tank Destroyer in December). Experience in field trials and in the Carolinas
maneuvers, where the 93d constituted part of TA-1, led to certain refinements, such as the elimination of light tanks from the reconnaissance company and the addition of infantry for security against hostile infiltrators.*
With this
was able to
1941. Two of
which Bruce
availability.5
(self-propelled
the sole type

work in hand, the Tank Destroyer Tactical and Firing Center
issue three tentative tables of organization on 18 December
these formations were light battalions armed with 37-mm guns,
considered to be expedient organizations dictated by equipment
The third type,. designated the tank destroyer battalion, heavy
@PI), was Bruce’s preferred formation and officially became’
of tank destroyer battalion on 5 June 1942 (see figure 6).6

The heavy, self-propelled tank destroyer battalion was a powerful formation comprising 35 officers and 807 enlisted men in its original configuration. (Incremental additions later raised the battalion establishment to
an aggregate strength of 898.) It was led by a headquarters and headquarters company that consisted of a full staff plus communication, transportation, and motor maintenance platoons. The headquarters company was
also the center for battalion supply. Serving as the battalion’s eyes and
ears was a reconnaissance company consisting of three reconnaissance platoons and a platoon of pioneers (a variety of combat engineers). The battalion’s major fighting elements were its three tank destroyer companies,
each of which commanded one platoon of light (37-mm) self-propelled guns
and two of heavy (75mm) self-propelled guns. Each platoon included two
tank destroyer sections of two guns each, an antiaircraft
section of two
guns, and a twelve-man security section. All told, the heavy, self-propelled
tank destroyer battalion fielded twenty-four 75mm self-propelled antitank
guns, twelve 37-mm self-propelled antitank guns, eighteen self-propelled
antiaircraft guns, and 108 foot security troops.?
Inasmuch as antitank guns of the 37-mm type no longer appeared to
be playing a significant role in the European war, the light platoon of the
tank destroyer company was converted to a heavy platoon in a revised
table of organization issued on 9 November 1942. The tank destroyer battalions that participated in the invasion of North Africa entered combat
under the old organization.8
The Tank Destroyer’ Tactical and Firing Center also had antecedents to
build upon when it turned to the codification of a tank destroyer doctrine
in January 1942. During the 19308, some officers, at least, had been instructed

21
35
807
24
12
18

eo
HQ
7l

66

Q6

66

officers
enlisted men
‘Xi-mm AT SP
37-mm AT SP**
37-mm AA SP

em

66

2 guns each

6Q
Security
(12 EM)

Security
(12 EM)

*Converted to heavy platoon, 9 November 1942
**Replaced by %-mm weapons, 9 November 1942
Figure 6. Tank destroyer battalicxn, heavy (SP), 1942

in the tactics of the “‘antitank box,“’ which was a static defense-in-depth
consisting of antitank guns posted at the four corners of a rectangular
“killing ground.‘? The antitank box technique ‘was not unlike some of the
British and German antitank tactics practiced in the North African desert,
but as conceived in the 193Os, it was too shallow and its guns (37-mm and
SO-caliber) were inadequate for the 1940s.” In any event, the formulators of
tank destroyer doctrine deliberately forswore any antitank concept that

22
suggested a cordon defense. They delegated defense of the front lines to the
regimental antitank assets organic to the division.
Instead of a cordon, tank destroyer doctrine embraced the principle of
a massed antitank reserve that was propounded by Antitank Defense, first
published at the Command and General Staff School im 1936. Tank destroyer
battalions and even larger groupings would be held out of the line, ready
to respond to tank threats at the front, flanks, or rear.
Following the defeat of Poland and France, these pre-blitzkrieg antitank
concepts, fundamentally
defensive in nature, suddenly appeared to be inadequate in the face of the panzer division’s offensive might. It may be a
personality trait of the American officer that, when confronted by an enemy
possessing unprecedented offensive power, he will turn to offensive power
as the countermeasure. However that may be, starting in early 1941, the
idea of stopping tanks by means of offensive antitank measures began to
take root in the U.S. Army.

The aggressive spirit inherent in the
early tank destroyer concept is exemplified by the famous black panther
emblem

An early manifestation
of this trend came at the 15 April antitank
conference hosted by G3, War Department General Staff. Although the
branches could not arrive at a consensus regarding advocacy for antitank
development, the conferees reportedly did concur on the need to develop an
offensive antitank
capability. 10 In the memo of 14 May with which he
ordered the activation of Bruce’s Planning Branch, General Marshall also
called for an “offensive weapon and organization”
to counter the tank.11
General McNair concurred. In the closing remarks delivered at an antitank
conference held in July 1941, he noted that in warfare, as in wrestling,
“‘There ain’t no holt what can’t be broke.“’ But armored warfare was one

23
such “bolt”; breaking it required more than passive measures: “The eounterattack long has been termed the soul of the defense. Defensive action against
a tank attack calls for a counterattack in the same general manner as
against the older forms of attack . , . . There is no reason why antitank
guns, supported by infantry, cannot attack tanks just as infantry, supported
by artillery, has attacked infantry in the past.“12
The 1941 GHQ maneuvers reinforced the trend towards offensive antitank tactics. In ordering the creation of three antitank groups for the maneuvers, M&air
directed that “the role of GHQ antitank groups is twofold: offensive and defensive, of which the former is the more important
and hence the one to receive the greater emphasis in training.“13 First
Army’s specially developed antitank group, TA-1, was created with the understanding that ‘“the action of the detachment will always be offensive . S. .‘“I*
In retrospect, it would seem probable that the ‘“destruction” of the 69th
Armored Regiment at the hands of TA-1 during the Carolinas maneuvers
became the model tank destroyer operation in the minds of the men who
drew up tank destroyer doctrine. In that action, TA-1 located an all-tank
force behind friendly lines, hunted it down, and “destroyed” it without interfering with friendly offensive operations elsewhere. The 93d Antitank
Battalion, which with its self-propelled weapons was TA-l’s most powerful
element, formulated training notes and standing operating procedures based
on its experiences in maneuvers and on lessons gleaned from exercises with
a tank battalion.15 Upon the activation of the Tank Destroyer Tactical and
Firing Center in December 1941, the 93d, redesignated the 893d Tank Destroyer, became the center’s first school troops. Its training notes went out
to other battalions as guidance until official tank destroyer doctrine could
be published. Its commander during the maneuvers, Colonel Richard G.
Tindall, became the first commander of the center’s unit training activity.16
In this manner, the idea of stopping tanks by means of offensive antitank measures, which originated among the Army’s highest echelons, was
apparently validated by some successful antitank actions in the maneuvers,
even though many observers remained unconvinced. These doubters notwithstanding,
the organization and offensive tactical procedures of the 93d
Antitank Battalion became institutionalized
throughout the tank destroyer
establishment.
Unfortunately,
this development sowed the seeds of future problems for
the tank destroyers. For one, neither the German panzer divisions nor the
TJ,S. Armored Force after 1942 conducted the sort of blindly aggressive alltank operations that had set up the victory of TA-1 over the 69th Armored
Regiment. Moreover, despite the official sanction given to offensive tank
destroyer tactics, a significant body of opinion within the Army maintained,
with justification,
that antitank warfare was still intrinsically
defensive in
nature. Even General MeNair wavered on this point. During the same speech
in which he prescribed the counterattack
as the centerpiece of antitank
combat, McNair likened antitank forces to ‘%eacoast defenses,“l’ a eomparison that could scarcely be construed to suggest offensive qualities. Further,

24
at the ? October meeting in which the term “tank destroyer” was chosen
for the new antitank service, McNair suggested that tank destroyer forces
would 6Lemplace and camouflage themselves” when faced by hostile tanks,18
a practice that would seem to be out of character with the prevailing offensive mindedness.
The disparity between the defensive realities of antitank warfare and
the offensive language was not resolved. The publication of an official tank
destroyer doctrine perpetuated the ambiguity. Only after tank destroyer units
had experienced combat would a serious reappraisal take place.
Tank destroyer doctrine attained official status in the form of the War
Department’s FM 18-5, Tank Destroyer Field Manual, Organization and
Tactics of Tank Destroyer Units. Work on FM 18-5 began in January 1942
at the Tank Destroyer Tactical and Firing Center. A prepublication
draft
was distributed to tank destroyer units on 19 March. The official publication
date was 16 June, only six months after the writing began.
FM 18-5 opened with a statement that established the specialist nature
of the tank destroyer: “There is but one battle objective of tank destroyer
units, this being plainly inferred by their designation. It is the destruction
of hostile tanks. Throughout all phases of training and during preparation
for combat, this objective will be kept in mind by all ranks.‘Q The manual
went on to describe the armored threat that the tank destroyers were created
to meet. In many respects, that armored threat, as depicted in FM 18-5,
was reminiscent of the U.S. Armored Force at the time of the 1941 maneuvers. For instance, the manual implied that light tanks constituted the
major armored threat, just as light tanks predominated in the 1941 armored
division. The manual portrayed tanks as operating in large masses that
entered battle at top speed. It suggested that armored formations consisted
of distinct tank, infantry, and artillery echelons, rather than the combined
arms battle groups employed by the Germans (and adopted by the Armored
Force in 1942). The tactics attributed to tanks included the overrunning of
antitank guns, a practice thoroughly discredited in the 1941 maneuvers.2*
FM 18-5 did not deny that armored forces were combined arms formations. It warned that infantry and artillery operating in conjunction with
tanks would attempt to suppress antitank fire.21 However, through means
never fully spelled out, this cooperation among hostile arms would apparently be broken down, for FM 18-5 made it clear that tank destroyer units
only engaged tanks.
:
FM 18-5 firmly embraced the concept of utilizing offensive operations..
\ ‘.
to meet the tank threat:
Tank destroyer units are employed offensively in large numbers, by rapid
maneuver, and by surprise . . . . Offensive action allows the entire strength
of a tank destroyer unit to be engaged against the enemy. For individual
tank destroyers, offensive action consists of vigorous reconnaissance to locate
hostile tanks and movement to advantageous positions from which to attack
the enemy by fire. Tank destroyers avoid “slugging matches” with tanks,
but compensate for their light armor and difficulty of concealment by exploitation of their mobility and superior observation.22

‘!”
’
_-,.
__

25
Tank destroyer forces would require special qualities: “The characteristics
of tank destroyer units are mobility and a high degree of armor-piercing
firepower, combined with light armor protection; strong defensive capacity
against attacks of combat aviation; and flexibility
of action permitted by
generous endowment with means of communication”23
These qualities had
already been embodied in the battalion tables of organization and would
also be reflected in the specifications developed for tank destroyer weapons.
Tank destroyer tactics as outlined in FM 18-5 built upon these same
characteristics. Action would open with reconnaissance, which would begin
early and be both continuous and extensive. The prescribed zone of responsibility for the tank destroyer battalion’s reconnaissance company was a
sector ten to twenty miles wide .24 When enemy tank forces were located,
the battalion’s tank destroyer companies would hem in the enemy armor
with surprise gunfire and maneuver against th.e flanks of the armored
formation. In case of an encounter battle, the first tank destroyers to arrive
on the scene were to engage the head of the enemy column, with subsequent
tank destroyer elements maneuvering against flank and rear.25
FM 18-5 placed more emphasis on the ambush than on the encounter
battle. Ambush positions were to be selected prior to contact with hostile
armor. Tank destroyer elements would be positioned in depth, disposed in a
checkerboard of mutually supporting firing positions.26 Tank destroyers would
not be tied to those positions but would be free to maneuver, for each tank
destroyer weapon would ideally have a number of firing and cover positions.
After firing three or four rounds from one position, the weapon would displace to another before retaliatory fire could be brought to bear against it.
Maneuvering tank destroyers would be covered by those in firing positions.“7
Obviously, FM 18-5 placed a high premium upon mobility and firepower for the successful execution of such operations:
Rapidity of maneuver enables tank destroyer units ta strike at vital objectives,
fight on selected terrain, exercise pressure from varied and unexpected directions, and bring massed fire to bear in decisive areas. Tank destroyer units
obtain results from rapidity and flexibility
of action rather than by building
up strongly organized positions. Tank destroyers depend for protection not
on armor, but on speed and the use of cover and terrain. When maneuvering
in the presence of the enemy they habitually
move at the greatest speed
permitted by the terrain.28

What would be the relationship
between tank destroyers and other
friendly combat forces ? FM 18-5 specified that tank destroyer elements,
like the battalions of Antitank Defense, constituted a mobile reserve, not a
frontline defenseSz9 Whether as a battalion attached to a division or a tank
destroyer group pooled at the corps echelon or higher (usually three battahons plus elements of the other arms), the tank destroyers’ job was to
react en masse, in fire-department style, to enemy armored threats anywhere
along the line.30 The execution of such a mission required the existence of
an armywide tank warning net and demanded road priority for tank destroyer units. FM 18-5 indicated that tank destroyers would actually engage
enemy armor in the vicinity of friendly artillery.31

26
FM 18-5 affirmed that such operations would be “semi-independent”
and asserted that tank destroyer battalions would of necessity be virtually
self-contained units.s2 Such self-sufficiency, however, applied only in the face
of enemy armor, for “tank destroyers are ill suited to close combat against
strong forces of hostile foot troops.“33 When confronted by strong forces of
enemy infantry and artillery, tank destroyer companies were actually to be
kept to the rear, with only the reconnaissance company maintaining contact.
In such situations, tank destroyers would become heavily dependent upon
other friendly forces. Therefore, the manual urged that “calls for the assistance of other troops are made without hesitation when tank destroyers are
confronted with situations with which they are not designed to cope.“34
Although FM 18-5 recommended that the “employment of tank destroyer
units should be in close coordination with other troops,“35 it did not spell
out how that coordination was to be effected, nor did it clarify how such
close coordination
was to be reconciled with the tank destroyers’ semiindependent mission.
In other words, FM 18-5 underestimated the significance of combined
arms, not only as it applied to hostile armored forces, but also to the employment of the tank destroyers themselves. Interaction with the other arms
not integration of missions and means.
took the form of “coordination,”
Significantly,
the only extensive reference to combined arms to be found in
FM 18-5 was a two-page section found near the end of the manual under
the chapter on training. It is clear that the formulators of tank destroyer
doctrine believed that their special-purpose forces would be able to execute
their semi-independent mission under narrowly defined and highly favorable
circumstances: they would have thorough and timely intelligence; road priority; advantageous ground behind friendly lines; and an all-tank threat
with friendly elements in close proximity, willing to adapt their actions in
conformity with the tank destroyer battle.

,I
i
The 76-mm
destroyer

1
II
M-16 tank

27
The execution of tank destroyer doctrine obviously placed a great deal
of reliance on the ability of men and equipment to outmaneuver and outshoot enemy tanks. Early in 1942, when FM 18-5 was being written, most
tank destroyer battalions possessed towed antitank guns drawn by standard
trucks or half-tracks, even though the favored battalion table of organization
called for self-propelled weapons. Bruce (who was promoted to brigadier
general on 16 February} decided to adopt self-propelled weapons, even though
General McNair continued to favor the towed gun. McNair insisted that
the self-propelled gun was too large to be readily concealed, that it would
be an unstable firing platform, and that it was less dependable and more
expensive than the towed antitank gun .36 Despite McNair’s objections, General Marshall favored experiments with self-propelled mounts. McNair acceded, but he was never really reconciled to the self-propelled weapon.37
The specifications that Bruce laid down for the ideal tank destroyer
weapon were very demanding: simple design, low cost, readily mass-produced,
light weight, high mobility, with a three-inch gun to be manned by a crew
of five.38 The efforts of the Tank Destroyer Center to have such a design
put into production met with resistance from the Ordnance Department,
which pushed its own designs regardless of Bruce’s requirements. A Special
Armored Vehicle Board, chaired by Brigadier General W. B. Palmer, attempted
to reconcile such disputes. Palmer noted that the representatives from the
Tank Destroyer Center were inflexible in their demands, and that they were
possibly asking too much in the requirements they put forth.39
Late in 1942, Bruce obtained approval from the Palmer Board for a
tank destroyer design that met his specifications. The new weapon, designed
from the ground up to be a tank destroyer, was orginally called the T-42.
After a number of modifications,
which included upgunning the original
design significantly,
the T-42 was eventually redesignated the T-70, and
when accepted for full production, the Gun Motor Carriage M-18. The M-18
could achieve speeds of over fifty miles an hour and weighed less than
twenty tons40 It had a ground pressure of only 11.9 pounds per square
inch, less than twice that of a man (seven pounds per square inch), which
ensured that the M-18 could traverse most of the ground that a foot soldier
could.4I Armed with a powerful 76-mm high-velocity gun, the M-18 was indeed an impressive weapon by 1942 standards. The one drawback to this,
the “ideal” tank destroyer, was that it did not enter production until mid1943.4”
In the meantime, the tank destroyer battalions would have to make do
with expedient weapons that could be quickly produced and, although far
from ideal, would still allow training in tank destroyer doctrine. The first
expedient, the M-3 Gun Motor Carriage, was a standard M-3 armored personnel carrier (the half-track) with a World War I-vintage ‘X-mm field piece
mounted on the bed. Of eighty-six M-3s built in 1941, fifty went to the
Philippines for use as self-propelled artillery; the remaining thirty-six were
used to equip the 93d Antitank Battalion. The M-3 was standard equipment
for tank destroyer battalions through 1942.43 Another expedient, the M-6,
was a light three-quarter-ton truck with a 37-mm gun mounted in the rear.

28

The M-3 tank destroyer

Except for a gun shield, the M-6 had no armor and was intended solely for
training purposes. A third expedient, the M-10, is often considered to be the
first true tank destroyer (in the sense of the term that denotes a weapons
class), The M-10 utilized the chassis of the versatile M-4 medium tank
(Sherman), was powered by reliable twin-diesel engines, and mounted an
obsolete three-inch antiaircraft gun in a fully rotating open-topped turret.44
General Bruce disliked the expedient weapons, especially the M-10, which
he believed was too heavy and slow to execute tank destroyer doctrine. He
also feared that a large-scale M-10 production effort would delay the development of the M-18. AGF overruled Bruce’s objections in May 1942, ensuring
that in 1943 the M-10 would become the principal tank destroyer weapon.45
In the midst of writing doctrine and developing equipment specifications,
the Tank Destroyer Tactical and Firing Center moved from its original home
at Fort Meade, Maryland. Its destination was Killeen, Texas, where the
War Department established Camp Hood on 30 January 1942, expressly for
the use of the growing tank destroyer establishment.46 There the center was
redesignated the Tank Destroyer Command on 14 March 1942, but again

The M-6 tank destroyer

29
renamed the Tank Destroyer Center on 17 August. Camp Hood became the
nexus of all tank destroyer activity, from the training of individuals to the
activation of units and the development of doctrine and equipment.47
The heart of the Camp Hood establishment was the Unit Training Center, which organized and trained new battalions. It was eventually augmented by an Individual Training Center and a Replacement Training Center that accommodated personnel not yet assigned to battalions. A Tank
Destroyer School provided specialized technical training to key offieers and
men. Eventually Camp Hood also came to include a Tank Destroyer Officer
Candidate School. Camp Hood was also home to the Tank Destroyer Board,
which wrote doctrine and studied technical matters involving equipment
and weapons.

The M-10 tank destroyec

Training at Camp Hood was in large measure driven by the extraordinary emphasis that FM 18-5 placed on the @an and spirit of tank destroyer personnel. The manual called for ‘“the inculcation of courageous but
intelligent aggressiveness, the willingness to assume respansibility
in the
absence of orders, and the exercise of initiative and forethought in making
instantaneous decisions to meet any change in any situation.“@ Thus, a
“major objective of training must be the development of aggressive individuals and units whose skill with weapons have instilled in them confidence
in their ability to destroy the enemy both at long range and in close
combat.“4”
The “close combat” referred to was also discussed in FM 18-5 under
the heading, “‘Dismounted Tank Hunting.” Tank hunting, which was to be
conducted by crews from disabled tank destroyers and by the battalion
security elements, involved both ambushing tanks on the move and raiding
tank parks with small arms, grenades, mines, and improvised weapons.sO
An important feature of the Camp Hood training facilities was the Tank
Hunting Course (later renamed Battle Conditioning), an innovative course
designed to acquaint personnel with dismounted combat. Patterned after

30
courses used in the training of British commandos, the Tank Hunting Course
in many ways epitomized the essence of tank destroyer training. It consisted
of a simulated battlefield that the trainees negotiated while, for the first
time in Army history, live fire grazed overhead. The course included a simulated “Nazi village” complete with surprise targets and traps.
As the course evolved in sophistication, trainees eventually spent a full
week on it under battle conditions .51 Excellent gunnery ranges and vast
areas of open ground facilitated the training of tank destroyer personnel
and units in the more conventional antitank skills.
By World War II standards, the training program at Camp Hood ranked
with the best. The camp grew into an enormous complex that at its peak
had twenty-eight battalions and eight groups in training at one time. Although other branches of the Army were using some of the facilities by the
end of the war, Camp Hood remained the focal point of tank destroyer
development and training.

The M-4 Sherman tank,
which provided the chassis
for the M-10 tank destroyer

However, even as the first tank destroyer units underwent preparations
for their first trial by combat, some serious problems within the tank destroyer establishment were becoming manifest. One of these was the relatively unproven status of tank destroyer doctrine. FM 18-5 had been hurriedly produced at Camp Hood in relative isolation from the rest of the
Army. Neither the full doctrine nor the newer self-propelled weapons had
ever undergone large-scale maneuvers in conjunction with the other arms.
Furthermore, General Bruce himself was dissatisfied with at least one
major aspect of tank destroyer doctrine. On 7 January 1942 and again on
2 June, he unsuccessfully recommended to McNair that a tank destroyer
battalion be made an organic element of each division and that all battalions in a reserve status be assigned specifically to some command.5z Bruce
feared that under the loose attachment and pooling policies favored by
General McNair that tank destroyer units would be preyed upon for replace-

31
ments for the Pine units On the other hand, if tank destroyers were an
integral part of the division or corps, Bruce felt that it would be in the
better interests of the higher commanders to protect the integrity of tank
destroyer units.53
Another problem that marred the tank destroyer program in its infancy
was the abbreviated training time that some of the early battalions received.
AGF timetables dictated that several battalions undergo as little as seven
weeks of training before being shipped out for North Africa, rather than
the two to three months normally alloted to unit training. Consequently,
even some of the best trained of the tank destroyer personnel had reservations about their qualifications
for combat. In addition, the deliberate cultivation of elan was not equally successful in all individuals, and some trainees
questioned the value of such melodramatic and dangerous aspects of tank
destroyer doctrine as dismounted tank hunting.54

The M-3 tank destroyer
during training

Much of the weaponry that the tank destroyer units employed in their
combat initiation was expedient equipment that would make the execution
of doctrine even harder. The M-6 was virtually unarmored, badly undergunned, and was never intended for combat, but it saw action in North Africa.
The M-3 was little better, especially considering that the poorly armored
and armed half-track would be engaging some of the world’s best tanks.55
-10, even though it was by far the best of the
General Bruce dishked the
expedient weapons.
The most serious problem facing the tank destroyers in 1942 was the
unpleasant fact that they were joining an Army that was largely ignorant
of tank destroyer doctrine. A radio warning net, road priority, and coordination with other arms were vital to the tank destroyer mission, but all of
these factors depended upon higher commanders who were poorly informed,
if not who’lly misinformed, about tank destroyers. To correct this situation,

32
General Bruce held the first of a series of indoctrination eoarses for generals
and general staff officers on 30 November 1942-three weeks after Operation
Torch began and eight days after the first tank destroyer battalion entered
combat in North Africa.56

The war that awaited the U.S. Army in North Africa did not lend itself
to the successful implementation
of tank destroyer doctrine. The tank destroyer concept arose from a perceived need to counter the blitzkrieg, but in
North Africa, the Allies, not the Axis, held the initiative. Moreover, tank
destroyers discovere that German panzer doctrine bore little relationship
to the headstrong tank tactics described in FM l&---5.
The most outstanding characteristic of German armored doctrine was
the close integration of tanks, antitank guns, infantry, artillery, and aircraft
into a combined arms team. As the British Eighth Army had already learned
at great cost, German tanks almost invatiably’operated
under the protective
fire of a superb antitank screen Typically, fearsome $&mm antiaircraftantitank guns, flanked by lighter pieces and protected by infantry, covered
all German tank movements from concealed overwatch positions. Even when
on the offensive, the Germans made every effort to support tank elements
with antitank and artillery pieces. The British veterans knew well what
the Americans were to learn any attempt by tanks (or tank destroyers) to
attack German mechanized elements, even those that appeared to be isolated
and vulnerable, was likely to bring down a murderous converging fire from
concealed antitank guns. Any Allied attack that did not provide for the
neutralization of this antitank defense risked defeat and disaster.l
The tank destroyers would even find it difficult to stand on the defensive
and ambush attacking German armor, for German tanks rarely attacked
blindly or recklessly. An American armored officer reported that “when the
German tanks come out, they stay out of range and sit and watch. Then
they move a little, stop, and watch some more. They have excellent glasses
[binoculars] and they use them carefully. They always seem to make sure
of what they are going to do and where they are going before they
move . . . .‘“2 Major General Orlando Ward, commander of the 1st Armored
Division in Tunisia, remarked that advancing German tanks sometimes
moved so slowly that it was necessary for the observer to line up the
German vehicles against a terrain feature in order to be sure that they
were moving at a1L3
33

The German dual-purpose
88-mm antiaircraft-antitank
gun

Typically, German tanks in the attack enjoyed the close cooperation of
the other arms. Not only did the advancing panzers endeavor to bring their
antitank screen and supporting artillery with them, but infantry would also
be available to ,reconnoiter minefields and assist the tanks in utilizing every
available terrain feature. The actual tank assault involved the support of
artillery, infantry, and q&raft that helped neutralize the defender’s antitank
guns and create gaps in his defenses.4
Thus, the tank destroyers would find themselves at an immediate disadvantage. Their doctrine, force structuring, and weaponry prepared them
to deal exclusively with tanks. In North Africa, the battle was not tank
destroyer against tank but tank destroyer against an integrated, combined
arms force conducting a skillful defense.
The qualitative superiority of German weaponry made it even harder
for tank destroyers to execute their mission. FM 18-5 implied that tank
destroyers would enjoy a significant
superiority in firepower over enemy
armor. By 1943, however, the German arsenal included the Mark IV panzer,
mounting a long-barreled, high-velocity
75mm gun that fired a tungsten
carbide antitank round, and the massive Mark VI Tiger tank, which carried
a version of the deadly 8%mm gun. By comparison, the expedient M-3 tank
destroyer mounted a ‘E-mm gun (originally designed in 1897) that was not
really an antitank gun at all. With a maximum armor thickness of .625
inches, the M-3 was terribly vulnerable to all but small-arms fire.5 The M-6
was much worse. In the words of an AGF observer, ‘“The sending of such
a patently inadequate destroyer into combat can at best be termed a tragic
mistake.“6 Its only armor was a .25-inch gun shield. The gun itself was the
37-mm antitank piece that FM 18-5 said was effective to a range of five

35
hundred yards.7 In practice, the 37.mm was effective only against the sides
and rears of most tanks, and that at under four hundred yards.8 One 37.mm
gun of the 6OPst Tank Destroyer Battalion scored five hits on a German
Mark IV at one thousand yards with no observed effect.9 Against the Tiger,
37.mm guns were ineffective at virtually any range.

A captured Mark FV panzer
motmting the high-velocity

Significantly,
the organic antitank gun of the U.S. infantry division
was the same inadequate 37-mm weapon, Tank destroyer doctrine assumed
that the infantry would be capable of basic self-defense against tanks so
that tank destroyers could be kept back in reserve. In 1942 and 1943, organic
antitank defense in the infantry division consisted of an antitank company
in each regiment, plus a platoon in each rifle battalion, all armed with the
3T-mm gun. Infantry antitank gunners reported that the towed 37.mm was
truly effective against tanks only if perfectly camouflaged and fired at
point-blank range. lo A hollow-charge, rocket-propelled antitank grenade (the
bazooka) became available in the middle of the Tunisian campaign, but
this, too, was a short-range weapon, and the infantry had no training in
its use. Tanks and tank destroyers would be pressed into frontline defense
to help protect the infantry from tanks, in direct contradiction to the doctrine
of both arms.
American forces attained a semblance of qualitative
parity with the
Germans in antitank firepower late in the Tunisian campaign with the
advent of the M-10 tank destroyer. This weapon, with its three-inch, highvelocity gun, fully rotating turret, and robust tank chassis was indeed an
excellent weapon by 1943 standards. 11The similarly armed M-18, which first
saw combat in Italy, was also a welcome addition to the arsenal. Events
would prove, however, that even when armed with adequate weapons, the
tank destroyers could do little to alter the tactical and strategic circumstances that militated against their employment in accordance with doctrine.
The division commanders at the front could hardly be expected to allow
the thirty-six
self-propelled guns of each tank destroyer battalion to lay
idle simply because battlefield realities did not conform with FM 13-5. Thus,
the stage was set for wide-scale misemployment of tank destroyers.

36
A total of seven tank destroyer battalions participated in the North
African campaign, which began on 8 November 1942 with Allied landings
in Morocco and Algeria and ended in May 1943 with the capture of Tunis
and Bizerte in Tunisia. Two battalions, the 601st and 701st, were the only
ones ta see action until. mid-February. These units were originally drawn
from the 1st Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions, respectively. They were
organized under the 8 June 1942 tables (one of the three platoons in each
company being a light platoon} and were equipped with the M-3 and M-6
weapons.
The honor of being the first tank destroyer battalion to see combat fell
to the TOlst. On 22 November 1942, Company B of the ?Olst, with a reconnaissance platoon attached, arrived in Feriana, Tunisia, after a six-day road
march. At Feriana, the company commander received orders to assault and
capture the town of Gafsa, a mission completely at variance with tank destroyer doctrine. Company B approached the task without infantry or artillery support and in the “absolute absence of any information on the enemy
forces.“12 Upon reaching Gafsa, the company’s two M-3 platoons deployed
and shot their way into the town. (The company commander wisely kept
his platoon of M-6s in reserve.) Surprisingly, the attack succeeded without
loss. The M-3s pushed on and managed to ambush a body of enemy tanks
at nearby El Guettar, destroying four without losing an M-3. On the next
day, Company B drove the enemy out of Sbeitla in a similar operation,
destroying eleven Axis tanks in the process. The company commander attributed this feat to “our boldness [that] was matched only by the enemy’s
utter disregard for the remotest pretense of local security.“13
In these first three tank destroyer actions, Company B took 400 prisoners
and claimed fifteen enemy tanks destroyed. 14 Back at Camp Hood, instruetors at the tank destroyer school passed this account on to their students
but accompanied it with a warning: “Do not expect to use your tank destroyers in this manner and succeed in a majority of cases.“15
The curious engagements at Gafsa and Sbeitla were an encouraging
initiation
to combat, but they did little to test the capabilities of tank destroyers in their primary mission. Such an opportunity arose between 14
and 22 February 1943 in the course of a German counteroffensive known
generally as the battle of Kasserine Pass. Along with other elements in the
W.S. Army, the tank destroyers were found wanting.
Like most U.S. units in Tunisia, the tank destroyer battalions involved
in the Kasserine battle were fragmented and dispersed. The 601st and 701st
Tank Destoyer Battalions, &ii1 scattered about in companies and by now
understrength due to attrition, were thrashed piecemeal by Field Marshal.
Erwin Rommel’s veterans of the Libyan desert. The initial 14 February assault of the 16th and 21st Panzer Divisions at Sidi-bou-Zid swept away:
Company A, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, along with Combat Command,
A, 1st Armored Division.16 On the following day, Company C of the ?Olst
joined the 1st Armored Division’s Combat Command C in an incredibly illconceived counterattack aimed at recapturing the Sidi-bou-Zid position and,
was badly battered in the ensuing ‘German ambush.17

A damaged Mark VI TEger
tank being inspected by
U.S. troops

Elements of the 6OIst, numbering less than a company, participated in
the defense of Sbeitla on 16 February. The tank destroyers were placed in
advance of the main defensive position held by Combat Command B, Ist
Armored Division. They managed to fire effectively for a while against probing German tanks. Soon, however, German fire proved to be too much for
the men of the tank destroyer security sections, who retreated precipitately
in their unarmored vehicles. The sight of fleeing security troops unnerved
and demoralized the crews of the M-3s. When the tank destroyers attempted
to maneuver to new positions under fire, they lost cohesion and were routed.l*
Although the tank destroyers proved to be unequal to the task of stopping German armor in the open, they eventually did make some important
contributions towards staving off Rommel’s attack. On 21-22 February, the
combined fire of tanks, artillery, and elements of the 6Olst and 894th Tank
Destroyer Battalions halted the westward Axis thrust at Djebel el Hamra.jg
One month after Kasserine, enemy tanks challenged an intact tank de-.
strayer battalion for the first time. The action took place at El Guettar,
where the 60&t stood in defense of the 1st Infantry Division’s communications and artillery. Except for friendly artillery, the tank destroyers were
unsupported. On 23 March, about fifty tanks of the 10th Panzer Division
attacked the 601st, which still used the expedient M-3 weapon. A company
of the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion, equipped with M-lOs, advanced to
reinforce the 6OIst but was slow in arriving due to traffic and minefields.
The tank destroyers, employing the fire-and-movement tactics prescribed by

38
doctrine, turned back the Axis attack and accounted for a reported thirty
enemy tanks destroyed. But the victory was dearly bought-about
twenty
of the twenty-eight M-3s engaged, plus seven of the new M-LOS, were lost.20
The costly victory at El Guettar stands alone as the only engagement
of the North African and Italian campaigns in which a united tank destroyer
battalion met and stopped a concerted tank attack. In fact, it was increasingly rare for tank destroyer battalions to be held back in antitank reserve.
Battalion commanders noted that the concept “whereby tank destroyer units
sat in rear areas awaiting sudden commitment to violent tank action [was]
psychologically
unsound.” Experience showed that if tank destroyers were
not on hand when the enemy tank attack started, they were unlikely to
arrive in time to influence the outcome .21 Moreover, attempts to bring the
large tank destroyer weapons forward through established positions frequently resulted in the inadvertent destruction of communication wires.22

AR M-6 tank destroyer
North Africa

in

Rather than holding the tank destroyers in reserve, higher commanders
in North Africa and Italy tended to distribute tank destroyer battalions to
the divisions, where they served to bolster the infantry’s inadequate organic
antitank defenses. Once attached to a division, the tank destroyer battalion
was almost invariably fragmented into companies or even platoons. Reportedly, there was at least one instance of tank destroyers in Tunisia being
parceled out singly to rifle platoons. 23 During the Anzio battle in Italy, two
tank destroyer platoons were attached to an independent tank battalion that
was, in turn, attached to the 45th Division.24
Such dispersal proved to be an administrative
nightmare. In theory,
the ‘flow of logistics for tank destroyer units passed from field army or
corps, through the tank destroyer battalion headquarters, to the fighting
companies and platoons. In practice, isolated tank destroyer elements often
found it difficult to procure such basics as hot food and dental care25 because
neither army, corps, nor battalion could keep track of them. One tank destroyer unit is reported to have requested fuel and ammunition from the
division it was attached to and to have received gasoline and 75-mm shells

39
in return. Unfortunately,
inch ammunition.26

the M-10 tank destroyer used diesel fuel and three

The personnel and maintenance requirements of “orphaned” tank destroyer units frequently went unfulfilled, and weaknesses in leadership often
went undetected or uncorrected. All of these problems stemmed from the
same cause: tank destroyer elements were not organic to any command,
hence no command felt constrained to look after their well-being. Shifting
tank destroyer elements from one division to another exacerbated such
problems and disrupted the development of tank destroyer teamwork with
the other arms, a relationship
that was vital to their success on the
battlefield.27
Typically, tank destroyer companies and platoons attached to infantry
formations were sent to the front to supplement the inadequate antitank
guns and bazookas of the infantry regiment. With the exception of increasingly rare armored counterthrusts, German tanks, on their part, tended to
operate in small numbers and in conjunction with infantry forces, thus
making it necessary for tank destroyers to cover wide sections of the front.28
Like all large weapons, tank destroyers tended to draw enemy artillery fire,
making it necessary to dig them into positions located away from the infantry, very often on unfavorable ground. 29 Tank destroyer crews learned
the importance of digging good positions, concealing their weapons carefully,
and holding fire until enemy tanks came into effective range.30 Such techniques were more akin to the antitank methods of the Germans and the
British than they were to prescribed tank destroyer doctrine. FM 18-5 described tank destroyer action as often taking place after enemy tanks broke
through friendly lines, 31 but according to Major General E. M. Harmon,
armored division commander in North Africa and Italy, “It is a fixed rule
and a po,int of honor that neither our tanks or tank destroyers will permit
their infantry to be overrun by hostile tanks, no matter what it costs to
themselves.“32
Clearly, the battlefield commanders in Tunisia and Italy contravened
the most basic principles of tank destroyer doctrine. Instead of maintaining
a tank destroyer reserve for defense-in-depth against massed enemy armor,
commanders employed tank destroyers in a frontline cordon defense. Considering the diffuse nature of the Axis armored threat, such employment
made sense. Adherence to FM 18-5 did not.
Although tank destroyer doctrine held little utility in North Africa and
Italy, this is not to suggest that the tank destroyers themselves were useless.
In addition to contributing significantly to frontline antitank firepower, $ank
destroyer battalions, on their own, developed new missions that were not to
be found in FM 13-5. The battalion that pioneered the development of
secondary missions was apparently the 776th, commanded by I.,ieutenant
Colonel James P. Barney. Barney, like many other tank destroyer officers,
was an artilleryman. (Of the traditional arms, Field Artillery felt the closest
kinship to the fledgling tank destroyers.) As a gunner, his instincts rebelled
at the thought of leaving the battalion’s thirty-six tubes idle in the absence

40
of an enemy tank threat. To provide employment for his battalion, Barney
worked out techniques and procedures for using tank destroyers as indirectfire artillery in support of the howitzers of division artillery. Other battalions
were quick to emulate the 776th.
Barney divided his three companies into two six-gun batteries, rather
than the three four-gun platoons specified in the tables of organization.
This restructuring freed some platoon officers to act as observers and produced a battery with approximately the same firepower as a standard battery. of four X05-mm howitzers .33 He then placed each company in support
of an artillery battalion The tank destroyer companies commonly operated
their own fire direction centers but, lacking sophisticated equipment, relied
on division artillery to help with surveys.34
The thirty-six three-inch guns mounted on Barney’s M-10s equaled the
number of tubes found in three field artillery
battalions.
Moreover, the
three-inch weapons complemented the 105-mm howitzers nicely. They could
reach out to fourteen thousand yards-four
thousand yards farther than
the 105-mm.35 The three-inch weapon was very accurate, and its shell arrived
on target with little warning. The burst radius of the three-inch shell was
about equal to that of the 105-mm, but its instantaneous burst reduced the
amount of cratering sustained by roads in the path of friendly forces. Moreover, three-inch rounds were cheaper and, being smaller, easier to transport
than 105-mm shells. These qualities made the three-inch tank destroyer gun
ideal for long-range harassment and interdiction, freeing the artillery’s howitzers for close-range missions requiring heavier metal.36
The fully tracked M-10 was itself a good gun mount. The tank destroyers
could displace and occupy new positions with a minimum of site preparation. Especially when dug in and provided with an improvised turret cover,
the M-10 was relatively immune to counterbattery fire. Moreover, the M-l&
sought out reverse slopes as artillery positions (to supplement the elevation
of the gun), leaving the level ground for towed artillery.37 In Italy, it was
discovered that the M-10 could tow a 105-mm howitzer during displacements,
freeing the howitzer’s prime mover to haul ammunition and supplies.38
But the employment of tank destroyers as reinforcing artillery was not
without its drawbacks. Constant firing wore out the high-velocity tubes
relatively quickly. 39 Although tank destroyers maintained a basic load of
antitank ammunition even when serving as artillery, the secondary mission,
nonetheless, interfered with their ability to train for the antitank role. Some
battalions split their companies between artillery and antitank missions to
maintain a degree of antitank readiness. 40 These drawbacks notwithstanding,
battalion commanders agreed that morale improved when tank destroyers
were employed in meaningful missions all the time, be they antitank or
artillery.41
Barney’s 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion discovered that when placed
well forward in the lines, tank destroyers could fulfill another valuable
secondary mission-that
of direct-support artillery. Late in the Tunisian
campaign, the 776th found itsellf in support of an attacking tank unit. Prior

41
to the armored assault, the tank destroyers methodically shot up all potential German’ defensive positions with their powerful three-inch guns. The
tanks attacked without loss to antitank guns and discovered that the German defenses had been thoroughly demolished by the destroyers’ fire. The
776th built upon this experience and developed a leapfrog technique that
allowed the tank destroyers to maintain continuous direct-fire support for
advancing friendly elements.42
The direct-fire mission was especially important in Italy, where tank
destroyers provided covering fire for tanks that, being better armored, closed
with and destroyed enemy positions impeding the advance of the foot soldiers. Thus, tank destroyers supported tanks, and tanks supported infantry.
During the September 1944 assault on the Gothic Line, specially trained
tank destroyer gunners supported the advance by placing rounds through
the small gun embrasures of German pillboxes at a range of fifteen hundred
yards. Even when openings could not be hit, the high-velocity rounds were
quite effective against concrete fortifications.43
Tank destroyers were so
valuable as armored self-propelled assault guns that one battalion in Italy
functioned exclusively in the direct-support role for four months.44
Ironically, the Tank Destroyer Center at Camp Hood had suggested the
use of tank destroyers against fortifications
in 1942 but had backed off
when accused of overselling the tank destroyer product.45 The secondary
artillery roles, which were developed entirely by units in the combat theaters,
proved to be so successful that early in 1943, AGF directed the Unit Training Center at Camp Hood to institute supplemental training in indirect
laying.46

M-10 tank destroyer

in Italy

42
The successes attained in secondary roles did not, however, counteract
a growing dissatisfaction
with the tank destroyer program as a whole.
Commanders at division and lower echelons welcomed the tank destroyers
for their versatility and firepower, but higher commanders, as a rule, never
reconciled themselves with the concept of an aggressive, offensive antitank
arm. Acccording to FM 18-5, “offensive” tank destroyer action took the
form of attacking
tanks by fire, not by engaging them in “‘slugging
matches.“47 This distinction was too fine, if not downright ambiguousespecially for a field manual. Higher commanders were not alone in failing
to differentiate between “‘offensive action”’ and “slugging matches,” for there
were instances in Tunisia of tank destroyers actually charging enemy tanks.48
On 21 March 1943, Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ-General
Eisenhower’s theater headquarters for North Africa) issued a training memo that
sought to tone down the aggressive orientation of tank destroyer doctrine:
While it is true that tank destroyer battalions constitute a mobile reserve
af antimechanized
fire power with which to meet a hostile tank attack,
numerous encounters have shown that their characteristics
are such as to
prohibit their use offensively, either to seek out the hostile tanks in advance
of our lines or to meet and shoot it out with them in the open . . . .
The statement in FM PB--5 that they are designed for offensive
not be construed to the contrary.4a

action will

Major Allerton Cushman, an observer for AGF and the Tank Destroyer
Center who witnessed the Tunisian operation firsthand from December 1942
to March 1943, filed a report bearing similar conclusions. He stated that
the M-3 and M-10 tank destroyers
can not be used offensively to seek out enemy tanks in advance of our lines
or to engage in “shrgging” matches with them in the open. Any attempt to
do so will subject them to destruction by the enemy’s AT guns, against which
their flat trajebtory fire is ineffective.5a
Troops in Africa have. found that the best way to meet a German tank attack
is from concealed, dug-in positions with routes reconnoitered to alternate
firing positions.51
Tank hunting, i.e., dismounted men going out after tanks with sticky grenades, Molotov cocktails, etc., ‘is fine in theory but is considered ridiculous
by troops who are in actual war.52

Significantly,
Cushman found no requirement for a high-speed tank destroyer. He noted that cross-country mobility counted for much more than
road speed because the speed of a particular vehicle was seldom reflected
by the speed of the unit to which it belonged. Cushman considered the M-10
to be a fine weapon, combining excellent firepower and cross-country mobility with adequate armor protection.53
Although both AFHQ and Major Cushman faulted tank destroyer doctrine primarily for .its overemphasis on aggressiveness, other officers who
took at- face value FM 18--5’s call for “offensive action” condemned the
entire tank destroyer concept. Major General John P. Lucas, a friend’ of

General

Jacob L. Fevers

McNair”s and Marshall’s special observer in Tunisia, reported that “the Tank
Destroyer has, in my opinion, failed to prove its usefullness [sic] . . . I believe
that the doctrine_ of an. offensive weapon to ‘slug it out’ with the tank is
unsound.“’ In place of the M-10, he called for a “purely defensive” weapon.54
All three men who commanded the U.S. II Corps in Tunisia, Major Generals
Lloyd R. Fredendall, George S. Patton, and Gmar N. Bradley, expressed
their dissatisfaction with the aggressive, self-propelled tank destroyer.55
General Harmon, who commanded the 2d Armored Division in North
Africa, stated flatly that “there is no need for tank destroyers. I believe the
whole organization [and] development of the tank destroyer will be a great
mistake of the war. Had more powerful guns been installed in American
tanks, tank destroyers would have been unnecessary.“56 Lieutenant General
Jacob L. Devers, chief of the Armored Force, who toured North Africa in
the winter of 1942-43 (and who would one day command AGF), agreed:
“The separate tank destroyer arm is not a practical concept on the battlefield. Defensive antitank weapons are essentially artillery. Offensively the
weapon to beat the tank is a better tank.“57
Even the Chief of Staff, General Marshall, who had played a major
role in instigating
the tank destroyer program, was dissatisfied. His complaint centered on training, rather than doctrine. While in North Africa for
the Casablanca Conference of January 1943, he came across a tank destroyer

44
battalion in such a low state of readiness that he was moved to fire off a
direct reprimand to General Bruce:
What I want to draw to yam personal attention is that this unit displayed
a lack of disciphnary
leadership and training that was glaring and meant
that it was not useable for any battle against the Germans until it had
been reconstituted.
The men were all right, the training
was seriously
wrong ~ . . this is the second time there has come to my attention a deficiency
in the ordinary fundamentals of discipline in Tank Destroyer unite . _ . . Such
procedure is unacceptable to me . . . . Pram a superficial
point of view it
would appear that you have concentrated too much on tactics and technique
in comparison with the attention you are giving the fundamentals of discipline.58

Bruce satisfied himself that the major fault of the battalion in question
was its commander, not its training. 59 Bowever, Bruce’s onetime chief of
staff agreed with Marshall that training at Camp Hood overemphasized
technical training at the expense of discipline.60 Furthermore, observers reported that tank destroyers, in common with many other elements in the
Army, received insufficient training in combined arms prior to combat. This
was particularly true for the training conducted at Camp Hood, for it was
AGF policy to stress branch training, rather than combined arms training,
in the new elements such as armored, tank destroyer, and antiaircraft
artilkery.61
The adverse reports that bombarded Washington and Camp Hood in
1943 contributed to a sharp decline in the power and influence of the tank
destroyer establishment. The actual status of the tank destroyers within
the Army had never been closely defined, thus the tank destroyer program
was particularly vulnerable to the negative recommendations that emanated
from officers of high rank and combat experience.
In fact, the institutional
status of the tank destroyers had begun to
slip even before the North African campaign. The redesignation of the Tank
Destroyer Command as the Tank Destroyer Center in August 1942 reflected
a sharp restriction of authority. As a center, the tank destroyer facility at
Camp Hood was strictly a training establishment, meaning that General
Bruce’s authority extended no farther than the boundaries of the post. Once
a tank destroyer battalion was trained and delivered to a’ tactical headquarters, it ceased to have any formal connection with the Tank Destroyer
Center.62
The center itself began to close down some of its training activities as
early as October 1943 because the demand for tank destroyers in the theaters
of operations was much lower than had been anticipated. In 1941, Bruce
had projected an eventual establishment of 220 battalions,63 but the troop
basis for 1943 called for only 144.64 In the event, only 106 tank destroyer
battalions were active by the end of 1943, but even these exceeded demand.
Sixty-one battalions participated
in the European war, ten sailed to the
Pacific theaters, but thirty-five never shipped out at all,65 having been “rendered surplus by the changing pattern of the war.“66 Eleven of the thirty-


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