Lessons of the Roer and the Ardennes

In preparing for the coming battle for Germany, army commanders had some sobering reflections on the quality of some of their weapons—notably tanks. Painful lessons had been learned not only in the Ardennes but in Ninth Army's offensive on the Roer plain in November 1944. In this short but bloody battle Ninth Army, the latest to enter the European campaign, had earned the respect of the seasoned veterans of First and Third Armies and justified its proud code name, CONQUER.

Ninth Army Ordnance

"Unlike the noisy and bumptious Third and the temperamental First, the Ninth remained uncommonly normal," according to General Bradley.1 One reason for the normality of Ninth Army was its youth. Though it resented being called a new army, because its headquarters had worked together for two years, first in the United States and later in England, in terms of the European campaign it was young, and in a sense it was like a family's youngest child that arrives when father is coming up in the world. Not until mid-November did Ninth Army have the responsibility for supporting a full-scale offensive. By then, the worst of the period of hard times in supply was over, and the opening of Antwerp a few weeks later heralded the beginning of the era of plenty.

Arriving on the Continent at the end of August, the Ninth's headquarters on 5 September assumed command of one corps, the VIII, with the mission of reducing the Brittany peninsula and protecting the south flank of 12th Army Group along the Loire. At that time VIII Corps was operating as an independent corps with direct access to Communications Zone, an arrangement that continued until the reduction of Brest on 18 September. After Brest and the mass surrender of the German forces along the Loire following dragoon, Ninth Army was sent with VIII Corps to a quiet sector in southern Belgium and Luxembourg between First and Third Armies, with a defensive mission only; it remained there for most of October, a small army indeed, for VIII Corps had only two divisions. Then the Ninth was ordered to take over a small portion of the 12th Army Group zone north of Aachen to build up for a drive to the Rhine in conjunction with First Army. Relinquishing VIII Corps to First Army, Ninth on 22 October moved its command post to Maastricht, in the Dutch panhandle, taking over XIX Corps, which was already in position near Aachen with two infantry divisions, the 30th and 29th, and one armored, the 2d. On 8 November, a second corps was added, the XIII. Ninth was still a small army compared with


Photo:  Colonel Warner


First and Third, and was to be concentrated on a very much narrower front than either.2

The Ordnance officer of Ninth Army, Col. Walter W. Warner, had not been affected by the supply famine in September and October on anything like the same scale as Medaris and Nixon; nor had he shared their unhappy experiences in the Mediterranean. For his part, Warner ascribed his good supply situation mainly to his excellent relationship with Communications Zone, which he cultivated by refusing to blame COMZ for all deficiencies, and by refraining from demanding priorities. When Medaris' executive officer, Col. Floyd A. Hansen, noted one day that Ninth Army was receiving more supplies than First Army and telephoned COMZ to ask why, he was told that the men at COMZ were going to look after Warner because they figured Medaris and Nixon could look after themselves.3

If Ninth Army's late arrival in the theater was an advantage in terms of supply, it was a disadvantage in terms of service troops, for it occurred at a time when 6th Army Group in the south was clamoring for supporting units. Warner arrived on the Continent with one medium maintenance company only, and had to build up his Ordnance service from scratch. When the long move from Brittany to Belgium took place, most of the companies he was to acquire were still with First and Third Armies, and others were en route from England or the United States. No sooner had he begun the concentration of men and supplies in Belgium and Luxembourg than orders came to move to Holland. Communications Zone and Advance Section came to his assistance with transportation and supplies, but the supplies that poured in added to his manpower problem because he had only one depot company.4

When the Ordnance Ninth Army manpower buildup began around Maastricht, the next problem was to find locations for the Ordnance companies in an area crowded with American and British troops and soggy with November rains. Ammunition depots and vehicle parks were set up at roadsides. Maintenance and depot com-


panics found shelter in factories, or even caves, or worked in the open on paved streets. In the congested Maastricht area, many of the newly arrived Ordnance troops saw their first German V-1 bombs, at night, a steady, orange-red flame against the black sky, and day and night heard their motors, variously described as a "roaring thunder" or a "guttural burble." Most of the V-1's passed over on their way to Antwerp, but some exploded in the neighborhood of Maastricht. There were many random explosions of mammoth shells fired from giant artillery weapons like the V-3 (Vergeltungswaffe), which had been originally designed by the Germans to fire on London from the Belgian and Dutch coasts.5

In organizing his Ordnance service, Colonel Warner favored the system adopted by Medaris of having two forward maintenance and supply groups. At the time Warner arrived in Maastricht, he had two group headquarters, the 59th and 60th, which he intended to use as forward groups. Shortly before XIII Corps became operative, Warner asked 12th Army Group for an additional group to supervise his base operations. Since none was available, he had to revise his plans. Keeping the 59th as a forward group, he reorganized the Goth as a rear group. It was February of 1945 before he was authorized his third maintenance and supply group, the 79th. At the time the big push began in February, his 59th Ordnance Group had the job of supporting XIII and XIX Corps and certain Ninth Army troops; the 79th had the task of supporting the newly added XVI Corps, the bulk of the Ninth Army troops, and all troops operating with the British Army. In both cases support of corps followed the now familiar ETO pattern of two battalions behind each corps, one for direct third echelon, the other a backup support battalion with depot and heavy maintenance companies.6

Warner had no ammunition group. Instead he used two ammunition battalions, one to operate forward ammunition supply points, the other to operate the army ammunition depot. By mid-February his 65th Ordnance Ammunition Battalion with six companies was operating a depot serving all army troops as well as XIX Corps; his 335th Ordnance Ammunition Battalion (whose headquarters had been converted from a maintenance battalion headquarters) with four companies was operating ASP's behind XVI and XIII Corps as well as supplying all U.S. troops under the operational control of the British Second Army. Both battalions were administered by the ammunition section of Warner's office, and in his opinion placed too heavy a load on the section. Consolidation under a group headquarters would have been an advantage; but no ammunition group headquarters was available.7


Certain types of Ordnance companies remained scarce, notably ammunition, depot, evacuation, heavy tank maintenance, and heavy automotive maintenance. For these there was active competition between 12th Army Group and COMZ, group maintaining that COMZ could depend on civilian labor, and COMZ countering with the argument that the civilian labor pool had run dry.8

Before the November offensive began in the Ninth Army sector, Warner received three companies that had an interesting history, one depot, the 333d, and two heavy tank maintenance, the 554th and 538th. They had been training under heavy security wraps for eighteen months to support the American force that was part of the British Canal Defense Light project. When 12th Army Group, unable to find any use for the CDL tanks because of the fast-moving action in the fall and summer of 1944, disbanded the project force on 4 November, two of the project's four battalions were converted to standard tank battalions and the rest to mine exploder battalions equipped with dozer tanks, Crabs, Centipedes, and mine exploders T1E1 and T1E3. The need for some means of dealing with mines became plain when the Allies began to invade Germany. On home soil the Germans reacted strongly with belts of mines, as well as crack panzer divisions.9

Ninth Army's first offensive, in conjunction with First Army, took place across the Roer plain—a right-angle triangle of about 200 square miles bounded by the Wurm River, the Roer, and a line northeast from Aachen. On the Ninth's north flank, XIII Corps with two infantry divisions, the 84th and the 102d, and the 7th Armored Division in reserve, was to cross the Roer at Linnich, To the south, XIX Corps with the 29th and 30th Infantry Divisions and the 2d Armored Division was to seize a crossing of the Roer at Juelich. Once across the Roer, both corps were to push northeast to the Rhine at Duesseldorf. The attack was to be spearheaded by the 2d Armored Division. Its first job was to attack toward Linnich, seizing the high ground around Gereonsweiler, a mile or so short of Linnich, and holding it until XIII Corps was committed. Then the division was to move to the Juelich area and prepare to help the infantry make a river crossing there.10

Behind XIX Corps, which was to make the first and the main effort, was the 59th Ordnance Group's 48th Ordnance Battalion, with a medium maintenance company behind each infantry division, a medium automotive maintenance company to repair corps vehicles, a medium maintenance company for corps artillery, and a heavy tank maintenance company behind the 2d


Armored Division's own maintenance battalion. The 48th Ordnance Battalion had come to Ninth Army from First Army along with XIX Corps,, which the battalion had been serving since its arrival in France in mid-June.11

For the coming offensive Ordnance preparations consisted mainly of inspecting artillery tubes and replacing worn-out end connectors and duckbills on the sd Armored Division's tanks. These preparations were dictated by terrain, weather, and experience. Unlike the Hürtgen Forest, the Roer plain was tank country—a low, flat tableland of beet and cabbage fields that provided excellent fields of fire though little concealment. The fields were crisscrossed by roads connecting numerous small villages whose thick-walled stone houses would make splendid defensive positions for the Germans. Not the least consideration was the mud created by November rains. Without the duckbills, the narrow-tracked American tanks would be road bound and would be unable to use the flanking tactics that were their best hope of defeating German armor.12

During the First Army breakthrough battles in July and August, the 2d Armored Division tankers had learned how to fight German Panther and Tiger tanks with their M4 Shermans. They knew that the ammunition of the 75-mm. gun with which most of the M4's were armed (a low-velocity shell about 13 inches long, as compared with the 28- to 30-inch high-velocity 75-mm. shell of the Panthers) would not penetrate at any range the thick frontal armor of the Panthers and Tigers, but could damage the sides and rear. Therefore the tankers had used wide encircling movements, engaging the enemy's attention with one platoon of tanks while another platoon attacked from the rear. They had suffered appalling losses: between 26 July and 12 August, for example, one of 2d Armored Division's tank battalions had lost to German tanks and assault guns 51 percent of its combat personnel killed or wounded and 70 percent of its tanks destroyed or evacuated for fourth echelon repair. But by using flanking tactics and by enlisting artillery support to fire directly on enemy tanks, the Americans had won their battles and even managed to inflict heavy losses on the Germans.13

By the time the Roer offensive began, the 2d Armored Division's firepower had been stepped up to some extent. About half the division's M4's were armed with the 76-mm. gun.14 With this gun, firing the new but scarce tungsten-carbide-cored HVAP ammunition, the tankers could penetrate the front belly plate of the Panther at 300 yards and at 200 yards had a sporting chance (about one to four) of penetrating the front slope plate. The division's tank destroyer battalion had also recently been equipped with the new M36 destroyers mounting the 90-mm. gun. And


Photo:  Replacing tracks on a Sherman tank


XIX Corps was strong in artillery support, with thirteen corps battalions of which three were allotted to the 2d Armored Division. There seemed to be no good reason why 2d Armored should not repeat the successes of its tank battles in France; that is, assuming it was not bogged down in the mud. At the Wurm River in October one of the tank battalions had 63 percent of its M4's knocked out when they were slowed down by mud. Therefore, when the 2d Armored moved out onto the Roer plain on 16 November, three-fourths of the tanks had duckbills, and as added insurance against being mired, all of them carried, lashed to their rear decks, bundles of slender nine-foot logs that could be placed under the tracks.15

General Simpson warned his Ninth Army staff to expect "one hell of a fight"; but that was what a general was expected to say before an offensive. Actually the commanders were optimistic. They anticipated only a delaying action on the Roer plain; most of them thought XIX Corps could reach the Roer in five days. What they did not know was that the Germans were determined not to allow a breakthrough, for they were already planning their December counteroffensive in the Ardennes.


Photo:  M36 Tank Destroyer of 2d Armored Division on dug-in ramps near the Roer River

the Roer River.

Moving out on 16 November, immediately after an air effort in support of First and Ninth Armies, involving more than two thousand American and English heavy bombers—the largest close support bombing of the war—XIX Corps gained up to two miles, capturing seven small towns. Only half of the 2d Armored Division, Combat Command B, was committed. Its tankers found they could traverse the mud in second gear, and soon the countryside was littered with the jettisoned logs. A few tanks were mired down. More were immobilized by mines, but they were not totally lost, for only the tank tracks were damaged, and they could be replaced in twenty-four hours.16

By midafternoon the northernmost of Combat Command BJs three task forces had captured Immendorf and the southernmost task force was entering Puffendorf, an important crossroads village. It was in the center, at Apweiler, the town nearest the high ground at Gereonsweiler, that the first serious resistance was encountered. Here the center task force ran into such violent antitank fire that it had to fall back and dig in for the night. The medium tank company lost fourteen of its sixteen tanks. No German tanks had yet been sighted, but throughout the night outposts reported that tanks could be heard churning behind the enemy lines.17


The Tank Duels on the Roer Plain

On the 17th, shortly after dawn, as two tank battalions of the 2d Armored Division's 67th Armored Regiment were drawn up on a slope outside Puffendorf, ready to attack toward Gereonsweiler, the men of the 1st Battalion saw long, high-velocity shells plowing furrows in the soft earth between their tanks. Then out of the heavy morning mist came a German tank; two Tigers and four Panthers moved out of the woods on the western fringe of Gereonsweiler. There was a hit; one of the Shermans went up in flames, then another and another and another, as the Germans got the range. Soon the tanks of the 2d Battalion were also being thinned by murderous fire from the big tanks. The Germans, alarmed by the speed of the American advance on the first day of the offensive, had brought up elements of the strong 9th Panzer Division—veteran of the Russian front—to Gereonsweiler and were attacking at Puffendorf with a force estimated by 2d Battalion at twenty to thirty Panthers and Tigers.18

The battle at Puffendorf was tank against tank: on both sides the infantry was pinned down by artillery fire. The Germans had the advantage of position: the Americans were hemmed in by sloping ground that made flanking movement impossible. The Shermans fought back desperately, stepping up to attempt to slug it out with their 75-mm. and 76-mm. guns, but the tanks that got close enough for their guns to be effective were quickly cut down by enemy fire. And when the American tankers did score direct hits on the German tanks, their shells ricocheted off the thick armor and went screaming into the air. One Sherman fired fourteen rounds of 76-mm. ammunition at a Tiger before it had any success at all—and the next moment was destroyed by another Tiger. When some companies were down to three or four tanks and ammunition was running low, both battalions sent back for the 90-mm. tank destroyers to come up. With the help of these "can-openers," as the tankers called the tank destroyers, the Germans were beaten off, but at heavy cost to the two battalions in tanks and men. The second day's action on the Roer plain cost the 2d Armored Division 38 medium tanks, destroyed or knocked out, and 19 light tanks; 56 men killed, 281 wounded, 26 missing; and all but a few of these losses were incurred at Puffendorf.19

At the end of the day the American tanks were ordered to withdraw to the protection of the stone buildings of Puffendorf. The Germans did not counterattack. They were extremely short of infantry; their own tanks were having trouble getting through the sticky mud caused by con-


tinuing rains; and their commanders knew that the 2d Armored Division's Combat Command A, with the 66th Armored Regiment, had arrived on the evening of 17 November.20 But though the Germans failed for whatever reason to follow up their advantage, they stopped 2d Armored Division's attack cold for two days. Not until 20 November did enough ammunition and reinforcements arrive to make possible a successful three-task-force attack on Gereonsweiler, preceded by intense artillery concentrations; and it was not until 28 November, after six days of bitter, house-to-house fighting in Merzenhausen, that the 2d Armored Division reached the Roer.

Artillery, according to The Siegfried Line Campaign, played an important part in the battle of the Roer plain. Artillery had pinned down the German infantry, and according to the Germans the weakening of their infantry was responsible for their loss of ground. Artillery had also cost the Germans some tanks. And the big "heavies," the battalion of 8-inch guns and two battalions of 240-mm. howitzers under the 34th Field Artillery Brigade, played a spectacular role. With the help of observer planes furnished by the XXIX Tactical Air Command, they demolished two important enemy bridges over the Roer with a remarkably small expenditure of their scarce ammunition.21

The American tanks came off less creditably in the battle of the Roer plain. The tankers, deprived by the terrain and mud of their ability to outflank the enemy, by the congestion in the area of their usual artillery direct support, and by bad weather of much assistance from the air, had fought magnificently; but they had become disillusioned about the ability of their tanks to defeat German armor. "Our men no longer have as much confidence in their armor and guns as they used to have," one of the 2d Armored Division tankers said two days after the Roer plain offensive. Another said, "The Germans have been improving steadily ever since we met them in Sicily," and "Our Ordnance Department needs to get on the ball."22

This was not merely a momentary reaction from battle-weary men. After the war an Armored School report, prepared with the assistance of 2d Armored Division tank commanders who had participated in the action, stated that the most important factor in the set-back at Puffendorf on 17 November—"the biggest tank battle in 2nd Armored experience"—was "the inferiority of our tanks in guns, armor, and maneuverability."23

At the time of the Roer plain offensive the tankers had been impressed by the superiority of the wide German tank tracks, which barely sank in the ground, while the American tracks made trenches. The tankers complained that the Shermans were too slow to get quickly out of the way of antitank fire (as the light tanks could); that their suspensions, of the volute spring type, adversely affected maneuverability


(most considered the torsion bar suspension superior in maneuverability and reliability); that their silhouette was too high; and that their armor was not much better than that of the tank destroyers. Above all, the tankers complained of their guns. They had seen their 75-mm. and 76-mm. shells bounce off the front plate of the Panthers as well as the Tigers—"like hitting them with a pea-shooter." The 76-mm. gun was better than the 75-mm. but did not have enough velocity to keep the tank out of the range of the more powerful German tank guns, which were effective at 3,000 to 3,500 yards. At practical ranges the 76-mm., even with HVAP ammunition, would not successfully penetrate the glacis plate of the Panther. "The guns are ineffective, the crews know it, and it affects their morale," the tank commanders stated. They concluded that the British had the right idea when they threw away the 75-mm. guns on their lend-lease Shermans and mounted their 17-pounders. The 2d Armored Division tankers believed that their own Shermans could easily mount a 90-mm. gun.24

Some assessment of the 90-mm. as an antitank gun was possible after the commitment of the 702d Tank Destroyer Battalion's M36 tank destroyers in the November Roer plain battles. The shell of the 90-mm. gun would ricochet off the 7-inch front armor plate of the Tiger tank at 3,000 to 3,500 yards; to be effective, the tank destroyers had either to get closer or attack the more vulnerable sides, and this fact the enemy evidently knew, for he had usually managed to keep his Tigers at a distance and expose only their heavily armored fronts.25 But to say that the 90-mm. would not defeat the frontal armor of the Tiger is not to condemn it as an antitank gun. The Tiger, cumbersome and underpowered for its great weight, was mainly valuable when the Germans were in a commanding position, as at Puffendorf, dug in on the defensive. Against the Panther, which most experts considered the Germans' best tank, the 90-mm. gun was far more effective than the 76-mm. In the tank battles on the Roer plain during November, the 67th Armored Regiment with three battalions of Shermans could claim only five Panthers; the 702d Tank Destroyer Battalion armed with 90-mm. guns claimed fifteen.26

Not only on the Roer plain, but to a lesser extent in the Hürtgen Forest, where the wooded, boggy terrain kept the tanks road-bound, was there growing frustration with the performance of the Shermans, especially those with the 75-mm. gun.27 And in the Battle of the Bulge, one division commander's wish for a tank with armament to cope adequately with the German Panthers and Tigers was echoed "prayer-


fully or profanely—wherever the enemy panzer divisions appeared out of the Ardennes hills and forests."28 Lacking such armament, the tankers stalked the German tanks, maneuvering to get a shot at flank or tail from behind the protection of walls and buildings, or lying in wait in a village lane until a German tank, advancing usually under cover of darkness or fog, got close enough for a kill broadside. With these tactics, with the help of individual heroic actions by tankers and by infantry with bazookas, and with the assistance of the ever-dependable artillery, the onrushing tide of the big German tanks was stemmed; but at great cost in American men and tanks. Between 20 November 1944 and 28 December 1944, losses in 75-mm. and 76-mm. Shermans amounted to 636.29

Attempts to Provide a Better Tank

By 1945 the tankers urgently needed a more powerful gun than the 76-mm. Firepower was their first consideration. The second was speed. Armor came off a poor third, for most believed there was more safety in speed and maneuverability than in armor. Maj. Gen. Ernest H. Harmon, commander of 2d Armored Division and one of the foremost armored commanders of the war, spoke for the majority of his fellow tankers when he described the characteristics the tank should have as "First: gun power; Second: battlefield maneuverability; Third: as much armor protection as can be had after meeting the first two requirements, still staying within a weight that can be gotten across obstacles with our bridge equipment."30 The main reason the tankers welcomed the 200 up-armored M4 (M4A3E2) "assault tanks" (promoted by Army Ground Forces but opposed by Ordnance) that got into action in the fall of 1944 was that the tankers needed more armor in order to get close enough to the German tanks for their 75-mm, and 76-mm. guns to be effective.31

An attempt by the Armored Force Board in the fall of 1943 to provide the M4 with a more powerful gun, the 90-mm., had failed. Ordnance had begun development work on the 90-mm. antiaircraft gun to adapt it for use on tanks and gun motor carriages early in the war, after reports from Cairo had indicated that the Germans in Libya were successfully using their 88-mm. gun against tanks, and the new antitank 90-mm. was standardized as the M3 in September 1943. Thereupon, the Armored Force Board, believing that the M4 tank was the one tank that could be delivered in time for the invasion of


Europe, recommended that the 90-mm. gun be installed on a thousand M4A3 tanks. Maj. Gen. Gladeon M. Barnes, chief of the Ordnance Department's Research and Development Service, refused to go along with the recommendation; and General McNair turned it down on the advice of his 6-3, Brig. Gen. John M. Lentz.32

Barnes had nothing against the 90-mm. gun; on the contrary, he and Col. Joseph M. Colby, chief of the Development and Engineering Department at the Ordnance Tank-Automotive Center in Detroit, had done everything they could to get it to the battlefield on a gun motor carriage, over the determined opposition of Army Ground Forces, whose New Developments Division continued to insist that 75-mm. and 76-mm. guns were adequate. Thanks largely to Barnes's efforts, backed up by the Tank Destroyer Board, the M36 self-propelled 90-mm. got to Europe in time to play its part in the Roer plain battles. But Barnes did not want the 90-mm. on the M4 tank. He believed that the gun was too heavy for the tank; that it produced "too much of an unbalanced design."33

At the time, Barnes was in the thick of a fight, which he still hoped to win, to get a better tank than the M4 to the battlefield in 1944- The new T20 series tank, authorized by Services of Supply (later ASF) in May of 1942, was designed with more armor protection, lower silhouette, and more speed than the M4. By early spring of 1943, the Ordnance effort was concentrated on the T23. Wider, heavier, and lower than the M4, with wider tracks and therefore lower ground pressure, it had a rear drive and an electrical transmission, which made it much easier to operate. The T23 was highly maneuverable and could do 35 miles an hour, as compared with the 29 miles of the fastest M4; its frontal armor was 3 inches thick, about an inch thicker than that of most of the M4's.34 The design, according to an impartial observer, "would have kept the United States in the forefront of medium tank development."35 In April of 1943, ASF authorized Ordnance to procure 250 of these new tanks.36

Very early in the development work on the new medium tank, in the fall of 1942, Ordnance found that it was possible to mount the 90-mm. gun on the T23-Barnes was all for it, and was strongly supported by General Campbell, Chief of Ordnance; but Maj. Gen. Jacob L. Devers, then commanding general of the Armored Force, refused to go along, and in the end the T23 mounted the 76-mm. gun. In an effort to get more firepower, Ordnance produced a second design, the T25 mounting the 90-mm. gun; and a third, the T26, with the 90-mm. gun, an additional inch of armor, and tracks five inches wider. Ordnance recommended


that 40 of the 250 new tanks authorized be of the T25 type, and that 10 be T26's, and ASF approved. All had the electrical transmission.37

Then began the battle to get the new tanks accepted by the using arms. Unfortunately, the electrical transmission laid the tanks open to some cogent objections. It added about 3,800 pounds to the weight, increasing the ground pressure and adding to the difficulty of getting the T25 and Ts6 over Bailey bridges (and on European railroads), even after the revision of AR 850-15 in August 1943, raising the Engineers' tank weight limitation for bridges to 35 tons. Also, prolonged tests of the T23 at Fort Knox, Kentucky, by the Armored Board indicated that the electric drive would require excessive maintenance. For these reasons, the T23 was ultimately considered unsatisfactory by Army Ground Forces for use in overseas theaters. Because of the weight consideration, the decision was made in August 1943 to convert the T25 and T26 to torquematic transmission; in this form they were redesignated the T25E1 and T26E1.38

Even with the weight objection removed, it seemed all but impossible to sell Army Ground Forces on the new tanks. Ground Forces was sold on the M4, so easy to ship and to handle; it was committed to the "exploitation" role of armor; it had not as yet had any experience with armored operations comparable to that of the Germans in Russia, which had led the Germans to develop the Panther and Tiger tanks. General McNair had no objection to "experimenting" with 90-mm. tanks, but felt that by supplying them AGF would be encouraging tank versus tank battles instead of giving antitank work to the field artillery and tank destroyers to which he thought it belonged. In October 1943 General Barnes's urgent recommendation for immediate production of 500 each of the new tanks, T25E1 and T26E1, and the T23 was turned down.39

The first breakthrough in the T25E1 and T26E1 program came a few weeks later when General Devers cabled from London a request for the highest priority for the T26. In January 1944, ASF authorized an additional 250. Though this was better than 10, it was only a fraction of what Ordnance wanted, and Barnes continued to press urgently for a thousand 90-mm. tanks. But General Moore of the New Requirements Division, AGF, continued to oppose the program; as late as mid-April 1944, AGF came up with the astonishing request that 6,000 T25E1 and T26E1 tanks be produced with the 75-mm. and 76-mm. gun. It took action by the European theater to get the 90-mm. tank program moving. Shortly before D-day, the theater asked that 75-mm. and 76-mm. tank production be stopped, and that in the future 25 percent of the tanks be armed with the 90-mm. gun and 75


percent with the 105-mm. howitzer. Maximum production was requested with the following priorities: (1) the T26E1 (now redesignated a heavy tank); (2) the T25E1; and (3) the M4A3 with the 90-mm. gun or 105-mm. howitzer. By January 1945 the ratio of 90-mm. gun tanks to 105-mm. howitzer tanks had been reversed. The theater wanted four 90-mm. gun tanks to one 105-mm. howitzer tank, primarily because of the greater penetrative power of the 90-mm., but also because combat experience had revealed several deficiencies in the 105-mm. howitzer tank, most important the lack of a power traverse.40

After D-day, the disillusionment with the 76-mm. gun increased with further experience on the battlefield. Bradley noted that the 76-mm. often "scuffed rather than penetrated" the heavy armor of the German Panthers and Tigers. Aware that the British could pierce the thick-skinned Panther with their 17-pounder mounted on the Sherman, which they called the Firefly, he asked General Montgomery to equip one M4 in each U.S. tank platoon with a 17-pounder. This effort came to nothing for two reasons: first, Ordnance in England was overloaded with British orders; and second, the combat units were too short of tanks to spare any to send to England for the purpose. Bradley's solution for the time being was to use towed 90-mm. guns to form a secondary line of defense behind his Shermans.41

When Brig. Gen. Joseph A. Holly, chief of ETOUSA's Armored Fighting Vehicles and Weapons Section, returned to the United States in July 1944 to urge the shipment of more self-propelled 90-mm. guns, he looked into the possibility of getting a tank mounted with the 90-mm. gun. Obviously, the best bet for quick results was still to mount the gun on the M4, the tank already in large production. In Detroit Holly saw an M4 modified by Chrysler to carry the 90-mm. and thought it had "tempting possibilities." But the T26E1 production had been initiated already and had such high priority that no delivery of the modified M4 could be promised before January 1945. By that time the T26E1 would be coming off the production line in limited numbers: 10 were scheduled for October, 30 for November, 50 for December, 125 for January, and 200 for February. The decision, therefore, was to abandon modification of the M4 and devote all facilities available to furthering the production of the T26E1.42

After the production of the first ten T26E1's, tests showed that certain modifications were necessary, including the provision for more ammunition stowage. After these changes were made, the tank was redesignated heavy tank T26E3, and was standardized as the M26 (General


Pershing).43 General Barnes insisted that of the first 40 off the production line, 20 be sent overseas simultaneously with the shipment of 20 to Fort Knox for tests. Army Ground Forces objected, urging that the tests be made before the tanks were shipped overseas; but Barnes (threatening to go to General Marshall if necessary) appealed to Maj. Gen. Russell L. Maxwell, assistant chief of staff G-4, and won his point. The 20 T26E3's were in Europe before the end of January 1945.44

The ZEBRA Mission of February 1945

As head of a technical mission (ZEBRA) to introduce the new tanks to the European theater, General Barnes, accompanied by Col. Joseph M. Colby of the Tank-Automotive Command, Col. George Dean of the Armored Branch, AGF New Developments Division, two Ordnance captains, a representative from General Motors, and a gunner from Aberdeen Proving Ground, arrived in Paris on 9 February 1945. First there were conferences with Eisenhower and other SHAEF and COMZ officers, including Sayler and Holly, at which it was decided to get the twenty tanks into action as soon as possible. Eisenhower assigned them to 12th Army Group, and Bradley sent them all to First Army, dividing them equally between the 3d and 9th Armored Divisions. By mid-February the tanks had been delivered to the 559th Ordnance Battalion at Aachen, training was under way, and Barnes had embarked on a series of visits to army group, army, corps, and division commanders.45

In addition to introducing the T26E3's, the purpose of the ZEBRA mission was to obtain as much information as possible on the performance of Ordnance materiel in Europe, especially such new materiel as the M24 light tank (armed with a new 75-mm. gun) that had begun to arrive in the theater in December 1944. Barnes was also very much interested in the performance of self-propelled field guns. As an improvement on the M12 with the M1918 155-mm. gun, which had given an excellent account of itself, he had sent to the theater one experimental model of a gun motor carriage, the T83, mounting the M1 (Long Tom) 155-mm. gun; and another experimental model, the T89, mounting an 8-inch howitzer. Both were sent to VII Corps for testing. Other items on which the planners in the United States wanted reports were bazookas and rockets fired from multiple rocket launchers. Before D-day, 4.5-inch artillery rockets (designed to be fired either from aircraft or from the ground) had been sent to the European theater. They were fin-stabilized, that is, stabilized in flight by fins that opened when the rocket left the tube. Two types of multiple launchers had been provided: the T27, an 8-tube launcher on a fixed framework mount, which could be fired either from the ground or the bed of a truck, and


the T34, a 60-tube cluster to be mounted on the Sherman tank.46

In his conversations with the commanders in Europe, Barnes described new materiel that was not yet ready for shipment: a "supervelocity" 90-mm. gun, the T15, with which he said a large portion of the T26E3 tanks were to be equipped; and three heavy tanks, the T28, an "assault tank" weighing 90 tons with twelve inches of armor, mounting the new 105-mm. antiaircraft gun; and the T29 and T30, which were similar in chassis to the T26 series, but mounted, respectively, the 105-mm. gun and the 155-mm. Barnes also had photographs of the new 57-mm. and 75-mm. recoilless rifles and a wheeled mount for a multiple rocket launcher, the T66, which would fire a new 4.5-inch rocket that did not depend on fins, being "spin-stabilized"—rotated by a flow of gases through eight canted vents.47

The response to the ZEBRA mission showed plainly that theater needs could be summed up in two words: firepower and mobility. The commanders liked the T26E3 Pershing tank and would have liked it even better if it had carried the T15 90-mm. gun. They liked the light tank Ms4 very much. They had been converted to self-propelled field guns by the M12, and wanted large quantities of such guns of the Long Tom and 155-mm. howitzer type. They did not want the T23 tank with the electrical transmission. Most commanders were not very much interested in the very heavy T28, T29, and T30 tanks, for they did not see how these tanks could be got over roads and bridges. They were definitely interested in the recoilless rifles. On the performance of the bazooka, opinions varied. The general feeling was that it was good but ought to be better. One assistant division commander complained that "we're still using the model we started with" while the Germans have "taken our bazooka idea and improved upon it." The Germans had produced more deadly antitank weapons of this type in their Panzerschreck and Panzerfaust, both of which, however, were extremely dangerous to the user. The Panzerfaust, a recoilless weapon firing a hollow-charge grenade, would pierce seven or eight inches of armor plate. Some U.S. combat officers collected all they could get their hands on for their troops; one tank officer considered the Panzerfaust "the most concentrated mass of destruction in this war."48

The 4.5-inch ground rocket had been used very little. First Army, converting a 105-mm. howitzer battalion into a rocket battalion with the T27 launcher early in November 1944, had employed the rockets a few times in Hürtgen Forest in mid-November with "excellent results," accord-


Photo:  General Barnes, during ZEBRA mission

GENERAL BARNES, during ZEBRA mission.

ing to General Hodges; but the artillerymen were not enthusiastic, disliking the inaccuracy of the rocket and the smoke and flash that attracted counterbattery fire. Because of the smoke and flash, a "shoot and scoot" technique was evolved, using the launchers on trucks, weapons carriers, or, preferably, jeeps. The need for more inherent mobility in the mount and better accuracy in the rocket led commanders to believe that the new T66 launchers on a wheeled mount, firing the new spin-stabilized rocket, would be quite valuable. As to the T34 launcher on the Sherman tank, First Army did not want it because of the disadvantages of mounting the launcher on the tank. One Third Army tank battalion that did employ the T34 briefly was appreciative of the morale effect of this great concentration of firepower, but recommended that the launchers be mounted on light tanks rather than M4's. They had found the difficulty of jettisoning the launchers resulted in the loss of the Sherman tank as a fighting vehicle.49

At the time of the ZEBRA mission, interest naturally was centered on the Pershing tank. Although the theater refused to subscribe to a blanket statement that the Pershing with the M3 gun was superior to the Panther or Tiger, all commanders considered it a step in the right direction and wanted all the Pershing tanks they could get as soon as possible. In the meantime they would settle for the M4 with the 76-mm. gun and as much HVAP ammunition as was available. They emphatically wanted no more M4's with the 75-mm. gun.50 When Colonel Colby tried to sell the battalion commanders of the 3d Armored Division on the Shermans they already had (being unable to offer them anything better on a large scale immediately), he ran into a hornet's nest. After the heavy casualties of the winter, they were beginning to regard the 75-mm. Shermans as deathtraps.51


Photo:  Convoy of Pershing Tanks moves through a German town


Before Barnes returned to the United States, he asked General Campbell by teletype on 5 March 1945 to ship immediately all the Pershings available, as well as all available HVAP ammunition for the 76-mm. and 90-mm. guns; and to expedite the production of the T15 90-mm. gun and ammunition and the shipment of the twenty-five T83 self-propelled guns produced in February. Campbell promised to do "everything humanly possible" to get the Pershings to the theater on the highest priority, and was backed up by ASF's Theater Branch after a personal cablegram from General Eisenhower to General Somervell on 8 March. But the tanks would not effect the outcome of the war in Europe.52

On 23 March, 157 Pershings left the United States and another 53 were at port or en route. By the time they arrived, the armies were on their way into Germany. When General Borden, on a visit to the theater, caught up with Third Army in Frankfurt on 8 April, he discovered that Patton had not yet received any Pershings. Ninth Army had received nineteen by the end of March but as late as mid-April none had been issued to troops because Ninth's armored units had been moving so fast that they had not had time to spare


tank crews to send back for training. In the last two weeks of April, the Pershings began to arrive in greater quantity. Third Army, for example, had ninety by the end of the month. On V-E Day there were 310 in the theater, of which about 200 had been issued to troops. But because of the difficulty of transporting them, and the time required to train crews in maintenance and operation, it is safe to say that the only Pershings that got into effective action were the 20 experimental models that First Army had received in February.53

As to the T15 90-mm. gun, only one got to the theater. When Borden visited SHAEF headquarters on 2 April, the first question General Eisenhower asked him was when the tanks with the "super guns" would arrive. The earliest date Borden could give him was June. Eisenhower said he hoped to have the Germans licked by then.54

Lacking the Pershings, the war was fought with the M4 Shermans, which continued to pour off the production lines. At the time of the Rhine crossings, 7,620 were in theater stocks. About 40 percent were of the 76-mm. gun type, but attempts to provide HVAP ammunition for the 76-mm. were hampered by the shortage of tungsten carbide. Because of production difficulties, receipts of HVAP before 1 March 1945 were less than two rounds per gun per month. By January 1945 there were enough M4's to enable the 12th Army Group to make a last-ditch effort to provide better firepower by installing the British 17-pounder. Here again the limiting factor was ammunition. British 17-pounder ammunition supply could support only 160 17-pounder American Shermans and by the time the first of them arrived in the combat area, the war was ending.55

Shortly before the drive into Germany, the American press broke the story that American tanks were inferior to those of the enemy. Hanson W. Baldwin in the New York Times and the editor of the Washington Post demanded to be told why; and the story traveled to Europe.56 Questioned by American correspondents at a press conference in mid-March, General Patton publicly defended American tanks. He also wrote a letter to Lt. Gen. Thomas T. Handy, Deputy Chief of Staff, which the War Department released to the American papers, stating that while the Tiger would destroy the Sherman head on, the Sherman could usually manage to attack from the rear and avoid a slugging match; moreover, the Sherman was incomparably more reliable and long-lived, as well as easier to ship and handle, than the Tiger. Patton wrote the letter because he wanted


Cartoon:  How Cartoonist Berryman saw the Tank Controversy.  From the Washington, D.C., Evening Star, March 25, 1945

From the Washington, D.C., Evening Star, March 25, 1945.

to stop what he called "the foolish criticism" of American tanks which he believed was having a bad effect on the morale of the soldiers at the front.57 But privately he had stated to a visiting Ordnance officer, just, after the Battle of the Bulge, "Ordnance takes too God Damn long seeking perfection at the expense of the fighting men, and you can tell that to anyone at Ordnance." The officer believed that Patton was expressing the feelings of the


using arms.58 It was natural enough for the tankers at the front to blame Ordnance for the heavy casualties they had suffered fighting in the Shermans.

Who was to blame? The Army Ground Forces New Developments Division criticized Ordnance for spending too much time on developing and promoting the T23 tank with the electrical transmission, which was not wanted, and the heavy tanks M6, T28, T29, and T30, which the AGF had turned down repeatedly because of road and bridge limitations.59 General Barnes and Colonel Colby maintained that the best American tank of the war, the Pershing, had been developed in the face of "bitter opposition" by the using arms. Colby believed that if AGF had given the go-ahead early enough, the Pershing could have been available in quantities for the beachhead landings on D-day; and the record supports his belief.60

The pros and cons of the tank controversy have usually been discussed in terms of the argument between Army Ground Forces and Ordnance tank designers in the United States. Ordnance officers in the European theater recognized a third point of view—that of many officers of the Armored Force, especially those in the theater. While it was true that the Armored Force officers could not wholly agree among themselves, there was a strong feeling among them that the Pershing could not (for whatever reason) be got to the theater in time to be of any real value, and therefore the first priority on tank development should be to eliminate the bugs from the M4 and then to modify it to take the 90-mm. gun.61 If only as insurance against the failure of the Pershings to get into action, this modification of a thousand M4's might well have been attempted when it was first proposed by the Armored Force Board in September 1943. In retrospect it seems to have been worth trying, and if successful it would in some measure have provided the tankers with the firepower they needed in Europe, from the breakout to the last defenses on the Rhine.


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