Hello everyone, today, we have a guest article by Atilla “Kwagga” Balint (his blog), enjoy! America’s antitank arm In 1940, the German Blitzkrieg had been introduced with terrific results on the Western front. Despite their higher average level of motorization, the Allied armies proved to be no match against the massed and highly maneuverable Panzer arm. At the same time, curious and anxious eyes followed the events on the other side of the Atlantic. The U.S. Army saw the combat in Europe the following way. Neither the scattered antitank guns of the infantry nor the allied tanks could stop the timely massed panzers. The fear from the new threat gave a stimulus to a process which lead to the foundation of an entirely new combat arm. Originally, the sole purpose of the Tank Destroyer arm was to deal with the Panzerwaffe of the Wehrmacht, which was then seen as a more or less homogenous armored force. The battlecruisers of armored warfare The U.S. had neither practical experience at tank vs tank combat nor antitank warfare in general. Until 1933, the only antitank weapon of the American arsenal was the fifty caliber heavy machinegun originally designed for the trench warfare in Northwestern-Europe fifteen years earlier. As start, two German 3.7 cm Pak36 had been bought in 1937 as a sample the American equivalent weapon was designed upon. The strong artillery tradition saw these small thus easily concealable guns as superiors to armor and the antitank gun as a cost-effective tool against the expensive armor. Another traditional view of the maritime power USA came from the naval warfare. The towed antitank gun was the equivalent of the coastal gun battery, which enjoyed the advantages of the more stable gun platform and the higher situational awareness compared to the armored warships. In short, timely and carefully placed, concealed antitank guns always have the advantage over the tanks. The trick was to get them there in time, where they can engage the armored spear of the Germans. So these „rolling coastal batteries” needed to have superior mobility to sort of intercept the marauding Panzer Divisions. To add more flavour to this abstract, the advocates of the new arm also wanted to maintain an offensive spirit, and saw the TD as an agressive and not a solely defensive force, which seeks out the enemy tanks on the battlefield, and destroys them with superior armament and gunnery. The offensive nature in defense principle (or on the contrary, depends how we look at it) of the TD doctrine lead to confusions inevitably in real combat. Another historical and also naval analog of the tank destroyer could well be the British battlecruiser school. The fast and heavily armed battlecruiser with cruiser level armor was envisioned as it could outrun and outgun the slower enemy battleships and outgun the faster cruisers, thus it could protect the merchant fleet against commercial raids. What I’m telling about the thought here that let’s give bigger guns to our battlecruisers/tank destroyers than our tanks/the enemy have, and give them speed at the cost of armor to help them keeping their distance. The Tank Destroyer arm was born in November, 1941, with the main purpose of defeating the Panzers in the future European campaign. This privilage also meant that the antiarmor capability of the armored force was kept on a more modest level for years. High velocity guns went to the TDs, whereas tanks were equipped essentialy with field artillery pieces. The rapidly built up American armored division was primarly an explotation force, a mechanized equivalent of the 19th Century cavalry. The breakthrough of the enemy defenses was tasked by the infantry branch, reinforced with independent tank battalions, but without heavier armor for the sake of standardisation and naval transportation considerations. Tank commanders like George S. Patton thought not much about the flawed TD doctrine. The later four star general predicted right that the TD will simply become another tank in time. So how can a small, towed antitank piece have the aforementioned superior mobility to a tank? Because if we mechanize it, this low-profile but effective killer becomes just another obvious and almost blind on the move piece of armor. The latter can be helped if we „shave off” the turret roof, so the crew can still have superior situation awareness over armor. Additonally, if we want superior mobility for our TD forces to outmaneuver the Panzer units, we will need something not only hard-hitting and fast, but something with a low profile as well. Not surprisingly, the argument over the towed guns and the mechanized versions was won by the latter, because the faster TDs meant to change positions to avoid counterfire or being overrun by a superior force, and this was thought and proved to be much more circuitous for a towed piece at daylight. Deployment and the order of battle The tank destroyers were expected to fight in a concentrated mass, the same way as the panzers had been seen previously in Europe. The origin of the order of battle was the divisional antitank battalion, and the Army used up previous divisional units to build up the TD force. The three digit number name of the tank destroyer battalions with an infantry origin received a two digit „60” prefix, ex-armor received „70” and artillery „80”. The third digit sometimes corresponded with the mother division, for example the antitank battalion of the 3rd Armored Division became the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, and so on. The order of battle of a TD battalion followed field artillery patterns. The main force was three gun companies, 12 vehicles/towed guns each, organized in three four-gun platoons. The overall gun strength was 36. Self-propelled TD battalions also had a cavalry recon troop with jeeps and armored cars. In the original order of battle we can find authorized bazooka- and machinegun teams, but those were absorbed as reinforcements for the infantry often. The TD force was meant to be independent and self-reliant at corps/army reserve. Several Tank Destroyer Battalions formed a group under an army corps, and a brigade could be built upon the groups at army level. But since the the methods of warfare had been shifted towards a more piecemeal combined force approach by the time the Americans arrived to Europe, the aforementioned mass and deployment of TDs never happened. The TD groups and brigades rarely got any combat mission, their role was mostly administrative, logistical, etc.. No less than 222 battalions were planned, but with the diminishing numbers of fighting divisions sent to Europe the final amount of TD units dropped to a total of 71 battalions as well. The sum of the tank destroyer Continue reading →

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