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Training a Modern WWII Tanker


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The_Chieftain #1 Posted May 08 2013 - 00:20

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For this Hatch, I'm handing the keyboard over to moonshadow5739 . He runs the training program for tank crewmen at the Museum of the American GI, I asked him to put an article together on the process.



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What does it take to train a WW2 tanker?  Being an ex-tanker myself, the principles are the same but vast differences in technology.  When I first volunteered for the Adopt-a-Tank program 4 years ago, it was a collection of historians and tank buffs who came together to help a museum achieve a goal of showing the public what tanks looked like out in a "combat situation" , and doing so, needed crew members to man all of the positions. I was asked to fill the position of Sr. Training Instructor to tap my knowledge of how an armored crew performs.

Training an active duty tanker in today's service takes an average of 8 weeks, where training civilians for a museum artifact, training must be highly modified keeping in mind that these volunteers are manning the tanks for a couple of hours a year and so the training is a 6 day course concentrating on 2-3 subjects a day.

Safety is highly stressed in the training as these vehicles will still perform what they were designed to do 70 years ago:  They will hurt and kill you.

The first thing that all volunteers must do is demonstrate that they can be able to climb up and down the vehicles without any assistance. Second, and this is very important in the training, is that the volunteers must be able to enter and exit the M4a1 and M4a3 Sherman front bow hatches un-hindered as these are the smallest of hatches in the entire collection measuring 12 inches by 17 inches.  This is done for safety reasons for in the case of an emergency egress all personnel must be able to exit the vehicle in a very short manner of time which brings me to the next part of the training, emergency vehicle egress drill.  All of the volunteers are put into the positions in the vehicles and on the command of "Vehicle Fire!",  where they are expected to exit the vehicle in under 5 seconds.  This may seem extreme, but when you are dealing with the original 70 year old engines running on aviation grade gasoline as originally intended ( US WW2 tanks did not use diesel as a lot of people think ) this part of the training is paramount and emergency egress drill is then performed at certain times throughout the training unannounced to the students to keep their awareness high.





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The next part of the training is ground guide hand signals. This is universal training for all tankers.  Not only so that all tankers know what the hand signals are, but also to get those who are going to be the BOGs (Bow Gunners) used to giving said hand signals as they are to be the ones who will guide the vehicles in and out of the museum's building, around other vehicles and so forth.  It is stressed that the ground guide has total control over the movement of the vehicle so it is very important that the ground guide and driver must work together as a team.

Next comes gunnery training.   This is where the students are paired up into teams of "gunner / loader" and they mount the different vehicles in the museum's collection.  Being a museum, the gun breeches in the vehicles are in an original state of being "active",- meaning they work. When performing the public demonstrations, blank rounds are prepared using the actual shell casings, so the students are instructed on the care of stowing and handling of the rounds, and how to load the round into the breech of the gun. At this time the students are also taught the commands for this drill,  "Load", where the gunner takes a round and loads the gun. When the breech block slams shut, his reply will be "Round is up". This lets both the vehicle commander and the gunner know that the gun is loaded.

The student in the gunners seat is instructed where the gun safety switches are and both the electrical and manual firing switches are, and when he is given the command to "Fire", he then flips the safety to the "off" position, replies "On the way" and fires the weapon.  When the gun has fired, the student is instructed to put the weapon back on "safe".  Since these weapons are firing blanks, the gun does not give a complete recoil to eject the shell casing, so the gunner's next job is to use the manual eject handle on the breech to extract the shell and the loader is instructed to catch the falling shell casing.  The student "loader / gunner" team will perform 10 "simulated" firings with empty casings and then they will switch positions and repeat the process.  When they have completed this in one vehicle, the  "team" will then proceed to the next vehicle where they will repeat the same procedure.   With 9 different WW2 vehicles in the museum's collection, The students have a full days worth of weapon training.

Now, for what everyone has been waiting for...the drivers training.

For this part of the training, two vehicles are used; the M-5a1 Stuart and the M-24 Chaffee.  Both utilize a hydro-automatic transmission and both have twin Cadillac engines and are quite easy to drive. The vehicles are taken to the re-enactment field and are placed.  After the students are given basic instructions on how steering levers are used and how it effects the movement of the vehicle,  each student then mounts the drivers position and proceeds a "dry run" of starting the engines.  At this time, a qualified instructor/ vehicle commander then mounts his position. The start-up procedure goes like this;   Commander-"Prepare to start"  Driver- turns master switch on, opens master fuel lever, checks all gauges for power, calls out- "Ready". Commander- "Start (left/right) engine". Driver- switches (left/right) power switch to "on" position, engages ignition button.  After the first engine starts up, the procedure is then repeated for the other engine. Once the engines are allowed to "warm up" for a few moments, the driver is then given orders to "move out". The trainee is then guided through a series of obstacles, left and right turns, halts and forwards lasting for 30 minutes.  All students go through the drivers course.


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Next comes the Browning 1919a1 machine gun instruction. Each vehicle, with the exception of the M-18 Hellcats and the M-8 Greyhound armored car, have a bow machine gun mount and all vehicles have a mg co-axial mount. The students are instructed not only how to load and unload the weapons, but are also instructed how to clear a jam and how to field-strip and clean the weapons.

All of the above mentioned training takes place over a 5 month period, taking place on one Saturday a month, starting in September, and the classes run for 8 hours. On the next to last training drill date, the students are then put into "crews" and temporary assigned to a vehicle with the Assistant Instructors as Tank Commanders.

Vehicle/Tank Commanders: Next to the driver, this is one of the most important positions on any of the vehicles, not just being able to tell the crews to fire, reload and mount up, but is the over-all eyes for the driver when the vehicle is moving and as stated above, safety is upmost and the driver and commander must work closely together as a team and it is the commander who has responsibility for the entire crew, so when assigning a person to this position, either an assistant instructor is posted, a veteran volunteer of the vehicles or an ex-active tanker of the military forces who is in the program who has completed 2 years volunteer training is posted to this position .



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Not only do the volunteers who sign up for this program not only man the positions and operate the tanks, but they also clean the vehicles after each show battle and it takes an average of 2 hours per vehicle with the most time being spent on cleaning the barrel. On the last training date, a graduation is held where each new student receives a diploma indicating that he has completed the course and is promoted to a buck private or "slick sleeve".  2nd year tankers are promoted to the rank of Private First Class and are awarded their stripes, and 3rd year volunteers are promoted to Corporal and awarded their stripes. Assistant Instructors wear the rank of Corporal-Technical Class, the Senior Assistant Instructor holds the rank of Sgt. and the Senior Training Instructor holds the rank of Master Sgt.   When the students are awarded their diploma's and rank, they are then given their vehicle assignments, positions are based upon individual evaluations upon performance in each of the positions.  Each returning volunteer is then rotated and cross-trained the following year so as to allow every person to have a chance to man each position on each vehicle.

The Museum of the American GI is the only museum in the country that allows individuals who are interested in history  the chance to partake in preserving and teaching history in this manner.

Pxu2 #2 Posted May 11 2013 - 15:59

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This. Is. Epic. +1

Daigensui #3 Posted May 11 2013 - 16:02

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Interesting.

Xlucine #4 Posted May 11 2013 - 16:11

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I wish we could do something like this at bovvy. How often do parts wear out on the stuart & chaffee used for driver training?

SMScannonfodder #5 Posted May 11 2013 - 16:14

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Quite cool, oh to be 20 years younger, oh and 40 lbs lighter :)

Ghost_of_Fail_Teams_Past #6 Posted May 11 2013 - 16:30

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That is sweet...

locoace1 #7 Posted May 11 2013 - 16:37

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how many 16 yaer old tankers were there? :tongue:  this looks awesome.

General_Walton_H_Walker #8 Posted May 11 2013 - 16:47

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Awesome article moon!

NutrientibusMeaGallus #9 Posted May 11 2013 - 17:28

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Cool article. Any chance of going further into the aviation gasoline? I know Russia disliked the gasoline engines because of the risk of fire and killing the crew from a past article, but can you overall go into more depth on this? And the differences between a tank engine and the engine in a car? I have seen video of people putting (for example) a sherman engine in a mustang, and they talk about different amounts of valves etc, and the performance putting it in a car not being that great, yet the engine can move a tank at 30-60km/hr? Also can you go further in depth as to the height and weight min/maxes for tank crews of that era? Also wondering if you can go a little further in depth with the weapons on these tanks? I know a lot of people are probably wondering why these weapons haven't been replaced with fakes or rendered unable to fire (I know the rules in the US are different for museums then civilians without special permits/licenses, but how different?).

Chopa #10 Posted May 11 2013 - 17:33

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Excellent article Moonshadow, and a truly outstanding programme.

Oh to be in Texas!  :confused:

Spanisharmada #11 Posted May 11 2013 - 19:14

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They dont shoot real bullets or shells right?

The_Chieftain #12 Posted May 11 2013 - 19:24

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Not at each other, no.

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FireAnt333 #13 Posted May 11 2013 - 19:43

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Great article, you just made me want to go take those classes.  :tongue:

Xlucine #14 Posted May 11 2013 - 20:15

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View PostNutrientibusMeaGallus, on May 11 2013 - 17:28, said:

...And the differences between a tank engine and the engine in a car?...

Not much, other than size
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MongGrel #15 Posted May 11 2013 - 20:29

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OMG you actually require them to be able  get in and out of the tanks.

I must have missed that one in USMC boot camp years ago :P

Edited by MongGrel, May 11 2013 - 20:30.


venser #16 Posted May 11 2013 - 21:26

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Very interesting read, thanks! That would be so awesome to drive them.  :glasses:

NutrientibusMeaGallus #17 Posted May 11 2013 - 23:40

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View PostXlucine, on May 11 2013 - 20:15, said:

Not much, other than size
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Some of those engines seem to show exactly what I mean. the last 3 pictures, the engines almost like like they have two engines in one, one sandwiched on the other. It looks like two sets of cylinder heads on each side?

Xlucine #18 Posted May 12 2013 - 00:49

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The 5 engines in the first picture (each a chrysler straight 6) were tied together to make the engine seen in the other pictures. Like this:
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The US needed sherman engines and chrysler had a plant ready to make car engines, so they put several together to make enough power (they also did this with a pair of cadillac V8's for later stuarts and the M24). The engines you'll find in a WW2 tank are not that different from any other normal engine from that period - much bigger than car engines because of the much bigger load, and cooling is a bit of an issue when you're hiding an engine in a cramped steel box, but not worlds apart. US tank engines in WW2 were commonly shared with other vehicles, because the low numbers of tanks developed before the war meant it wasn't worth designing an engine just for tanks - the radials fitted to stuarts, shermans and lees were from aircraft. The two engines in the post war BTR-60 were developed from the studebaker truck engine sent over in LL. In a car a tank engine would be ridiculously overbuilt compared to a sports car engine, as tanks need far more torque, and much too big unless you were putting it in the back of a van, but there's no magic meaning a tank engine couldn't work in a car. I know a guy who has dreams of putting a meteor (tank version of merlin) in a racing truck chassis.

NutrientibusMeaGallus #19 Posted May 12 2013 - 01:44

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View PostXlucine, on May 12 2013 - 00:49, said:

The 5 engines in the first picture (each a chrysler straight 6) were tied together to make the engine seen in the other pictures. Like this:
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The US needed sherman engines and chrysler had a plant ready to make car engines, so they put several together to make enough power (they also did this with a pair of cadillac V8's for later stuarts and the M24). The engines you'll find in a WW2 tank are not that different from any other normal engine from that period - much bigger than car engines because of the much bigger load, and cooling is a bit of an issue when you're hiding an engine in a cramped steel box, but not worlds apart. US tank engines in WW2 were commonly shared with other vehicles, because the low numbers of tanks developed before the war meant it wasn't worth designing an engine just for tanks - the radials fitted to stuarts, shermans and lees were from aircraft. The two engines in the post war BTR-60 were developed from the studebaker truck engine sent over in LL. In a car a tank engine would be ridiculously overbuilt compared to a sports car engine, as tanks need far more torque, and much too big unless you were putting it in the back of a van, but there's no magic meaning a tank engine couldn't work in a car. I know a guy who has dreams of putting a meteor (tank version of merlin) in a racing truck chassis.

  That explains why the engines look so odd and why they have so many valves on one engine... It's really 5 straight 6's designed to work as one bigger engine... This pretty much answers all my questions from them focusing on torque on down.... Also explains why there's so much emphasis in the game on engine oil and engine fires. Hit that casting that holds it all together and that's where the central oil pump/sump is for all 5 (least that's what it looks like in the mechanical drawing). Though..... Did they have issues getting the oil to properly circulate to the top end and back to the sump with this setup basically putting 4 of the 5 engines on their sides? And with a setup like the one in the picture was it set up where if one of them overheated or was damaged it could be stopped, while leaving the rest of it running?

Lucius_Stertinius #20 Posted May 12 2013 - 01:55

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Were the fire commands the same in WWII as they are now, or are you just teaching the modern fire commands?




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