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US Army Tanks in Cities Part 2


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The_Chieftain #1 Posted Aug 31 2013 - 00:00

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Harry Yeide completes his examples of the learning process the US Army's armor community underwent for urban fighting. - The Chieftain
Aachen: Capturing an Imperial City
By late September 1944, US First Army had reached the German border and its defending Siegfried Line, or West Wall, near Aachen, which from about 768 to 814 had been the seat of the Emperor Charlemagne. Aachen’s streets had thus witnessed the passage of armor, but that of knights on horseback.
Aachen would be the first major German city to fall to the Allies and a superb demonstration of the fact that one could, in fact, use tanks effectively in urban warfare. First Army’s VII Corps attacked from the south, while its XIX Corps formed the other jaw of a pincer to the north. Once the two corps had encircled Aachen, the 1st Infantry Division was to storm the city.
To the north, in the XIX Corps sector, the attack to break through the Siegfried Line and envelope Aachen kicked off on 2 October, spearheaded by the 30th Infantry Division and the attached 743d Tank Battalion. The 2d Armored Division stood by as the exploitation force. The doughs moved forward and easily penetrated the fortifications. The tanks, however, sank into mud just across the narrow Würm River—which they crossed using a culvert-type hasty bridge designed by the battalion’s own Captain Miller and the engineers—and it was not until nightfall that the Shermans were able to close with the infantry. By 7 October, the division had carved out a bridgehead beyond the West Wall that was four and a half miles deep and six miles wide.[ii]
The good news ended there, and the struggle around Aachen became the bloodiest experienced by the 743d Tank Battalion after the battle of the hedgerows in Normandy. German resistance became ferocious as reinforcements arrived. Nine more days of heavy fighting were necessary before a 30th Infantry Division patrol hooked up with 1st Infantry Division troops on Ravel Hill, completing the encirclement of Aachen.[iii] During October, the 743d Tank Battalion lost twenty of its Shermans, one light tank, and one assault gun while destroying three Tigers, eleven Panthers, five Mark IVs, twenty antitank guns, two armored cars, and two heavy artillery pieces. The battalion suffered thirteen officers and sixty-two enlisted men wounded in action, twenty enlisted men killed in action, and seven enlisted men missing in action during the period—nearly all from the medium tank companies.[iv]
In the VII Corps zone, the 3d Armored Division attacked in the center, with the 1st Infantry Division (745th Tank Battalion attached) on the left oriented to envelop Aachen from the south, and the 9th Infantry Division (746th Tank Battalion attached) on the right. Seeking to regain momentum, the 1st Infantry Division launched its drive to close the ring around Aachen on 8 October. Hitler ordered the defenders, some 4,000 men backed by assault guns, to hold the historic city—the seat of Charlemagne’s First Reich—at all costs.
Once the 1st and 30th Infantry divisions closed the ring around Aachen, subduing the city fell to Col. John Seitz’s 26th Infantry Regiment, which had only two battalions available for the job. The assault force was substantially outnumbered in terms of men, but it enjoyed a huge advantage in armor, artillery, and air support. The regiment attacked from east to west through the city.

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Lieutenant Colonel Derrill Daniel’s 2d Battalion, 26th Infantry, backed by tank destroyers from Company A, 634th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and tanks from the 745th Tank Battalion, had the dubious honor of clearing the south and center of Aachen. While dug in on the outskirts prior to the assault, Daniel had used the tanks as “snipers” against machine-gun nests and the tank destroyers to blow up buildings suspected of harboring OPs.[v] But now he had to take the buildings—a lot of them.

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A “Jumbo” assault Sherman fires at a target in Aachen during the pre-attack bombardment of the city in early October 1944. The Jumbo carried much thicker armor than a standard Sherman and could withstand more punishment. (National Archives, Signal Corps film)

Daniel’s battalion had been conducting limited attacks for days to clear structures along the outskirts before moving into the city itself. Initially, Daniel assigned a mixed force of three or more Shermans and two tank destroyers to support each infantry company. The armor’s job was to blast ahead of the infantry, drive the enemy into cellars, and generally “scare the hell out of them.” Tanks and tank destroyers had prearranged infantry protection, but small arms fire forced the doughs to move cautiously, dashing from door to door and hole to hole.
Lieutenant Colonel John Corley’s 3d Battalion, meanwhile cleared a factory district on the east side of the city, and Shermans and M10s played backup. When the doughs came under fire, a tank or tank destroyer returned fire until the riflemen moved in and cleared the building with grenades.
The two battalions launched their attack on the city proper on 13 October. Companies F and G from 2d Battalion each had three Shermans and one M10 attached, while Company H had three tanks and two tank destroyers. The armor had difficulty negotiating embankments along the main rail line that cut across 2d Battalion’s front. Several successfully slid down a ten-foot bank, while others went under the tracks near the Aachen–Rothe Erde train station only fifteen yards from the main underpass, where the men could see German demolitions installed.[vi]
Daniel soon developed a more frugal tactical approach for the urban fighting: One or two tanks or tank destroyers went into action beside each infantry platoon. The armor would keep each successive building under fire until the riflemen moved in to assault it. The crews normally fired HE rounds on fuse-delay through doors, windows, or thin walls to explode inside. They usually shot with no target visible, just in case a foe lurked there. Each armored vehicle expended an average of fifty rounds of HE daily.
The GIs would then advance some 100 yards ahead of the armored vehicle to protect it from panzerfaust attack, searching buildings on both sides of the street for enemy troops. When the riflemen spotted an antitank gun, they gave the tank commander precise details so he could pull swiftly into position and dispatch it. Four doughboys were assigned to each tank commander to provide close-in support and act as runners to keep the tankers informed as to the infantry’s position.
At each intersection, the armor fired on all four corners before the infantry crossed the street. The presence of tanks gave the GIs greater confidence, as they knew that cannon and machine-gun fire were available in only seconds if the Germans opened up on them.
Only when a building was cleared and the doughs were safe from muzzle blast would the tank or tank destroyer fire on its next target. The process quickly produced tremendous teamwork. Light artillery, meanwhile, crept two or three blocks ahead of the advancing troops, while heavy artillery dropped beyond that.[vii]
Daniel established checkpoints at intersections and in larger buildings so that adjacent units could keep track of one another and stay in line. Each company was assigned an area, and each platoon usually was given a single street to clear. At cross streets, platoons worked about halfway down each block until they made contact with their neighbor.[viii]

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[i]Tanks and infantry clear a street in Aachen. (Signal Corps photo)

George Mucha, a BBC correspondent following Daniel’s men, reported:
The Americans were advancing methodically from street to street. Ahead of us, a few yards ahead, a Sherman tank sprayed the buildings with machine-gun fire.
Suddenly it stopped. There was a German machine-gun nest. We squeezed against the wall until the tank had dealt with this by firing its gun at point-blank range into the house. The street was shaking with the thunder of reports. Above our heads mortar bombs were whining through the air. It was raining. . . . Every ten yards a new house had to be searched from top to bottom for snipers; doors broken in, grenades thrown into suspect rooms.[ix]
Because some structures, including many apartment buildings, were proving impervious to fire from tanks and tank destroyers, the 3d Battalion requested the help of a self-propelled 155mm gun. Division artillery agreed to send one forward. The first test of the 155mm rifle was most successful—one shot leveled a structure that had shrugged off tank and tank destroyer rounds. An enthused Colonel Seitz decided to obtain another gun for 2d Battalion.
The Germans finally surrendered on 21 October. Corley’s troops had reached the German CP and were using a 155mm gun against the outer walls. Oberst Gerhard Wilck, the garrison commander, surrendered at 1205 hours, commenting, “When the Americans start using 155s as sniper weapons, it is time to give up.”[x]
Manila: From Sprint to Slog
After consolidating its part of the beachhead on Luzon, XIV Corps on 15 January 1945 crossed the Agno River unmolested. On 17 January, Gen. Douglas MacArthur told Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, commanding Sixth Army, that he wanted XIV Corps to roll south to capture the Clark Field air base complex with alacrity. Krueger the next day gave XIV Corps the green light. The Americans rolled toward Manila, as the Japanese had already largely evacuated the central plain.[xi]
Oral tradition holds that MacArthur was so impressed by a raid conducted on 30 January by the 6th Ranger Battalion at Cabanatuan—which resulted in the liberation of 500 prisoners of war—that he ordered the 1st Cavalry Division, which had arrived from Leyte on 27 January, to accomplish a similar rescue of 3,700 American and other Western civilians interned at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. “Go to Manila! Go over the Japs, go around the Japs, bounce off the Japs, but go to Manila!”[xii]
MacArthur ordered creation of a “flying column” for the mission, and the 1st Cavalry Division organized a mechanized task force under its 1st Cavalry Brigade. The column was broken into three smaller columns or “serials.” Marine Corps aviation was to support the operation. With the inevitable twists and turns, the men would have to cover some 100 miles to reach the objective. Fortunately, Santo Tomas lay on the north side of Manila, which the Americans would reach first.[xiii]
The 44th Tank Battalion, less Companies A-C, and the 302d Cavalry reconnaissance Troop formed the spearhead for the flying column, called the Provisional Reconnaissance Squadron. Starting the night of 31 January, battalion CO Lt. Col. Tom Ross reached Santa Rosa and pressed on the next day to Gapan. There, heavy automatic weapons fire greeted the column, and Ross was killed. That same day, Company B, working with the 2d Cavalry Brigade, secured the river crossing at Cabanatuan, where heavy street fighting took place, and the tanks proved their worth by destroying the enemy’s prepared positions.
The 1st Cavalry Division rolled on, swatting aside resistance here and there and with flanks protected only by Marine Corps flyers. On 3 February, Company B tanks operating with the 1st Brigade’s 5th Cavalry Regiment were the first element to enter Manila at about 1830 hours, blasting at all positions suspected of hiding Japanese soldiers. The tanks rolled through streets crisscrossed by sniper bullets and reached the internment camp at Santo Thomas University at about 2100 hours. The Sherman Battlin Basic, followed by Georgia Peach, knocked down the gates. The bold gambit had succeeded.[xiv]
Getting into Manila had been easy, but securing the capital proved difficult indeed. Strong Japanese forces, primarily naval, disregarded General Yamashita's plan to hold out in the mountains and fought for possession of the city. On 4 February, Manila was divided into two sectors under the responsibility of the 1st Cavalry Division to the east and 37th Infantry Division to the west; while the former gathered its strength, its 8th Cavalry Regiment began to push toward the Pasig River that ran roughly east to west through the city’s center. The 37th Infantry Division easily secured the river line in its zone the next day, hindered mainly by cheering crowds and burning buildings set alight by the Japanese.

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Company B, 44th Tank Battalion, meanwhile, turned to clear the area northeast of the city center, attached to the 7th Cavalry Regiment. On 7 February, the company was ordered to sweep the eastern suburbs, turn south, and then jog west toward the Pasig River.
In a display of complete incompetence, the division assigned no foot troops to work with the tanks. The tankers ran into strong resistance near the San Juan reservoir, where 5-inch naval and 20mm guns engaged the company, while Japanese infantry closed in with Molotov cocktails and mines. In one platoon, three tanks were destroyed and the other two damaged. The next day, six tanks reached the reservoir but were again set upon by Japanese suicide troops with Molotov cocktails and had to pull back. The infantry finally arrived at 1330 hours, and together the GIs and tankers secured the reservoir.
The company then moved into the heart of the city, where the other three regiments of the 1st Cavalry Division and the 37th Division’s 148th and 129th Infantry regiments were fighting to clear the area south of the Pasig that the Japanese had converted into a fortress. Company A tankers were already there, working through the streets with the 8th Cavalry Regiment troopers, blasting bunkers and other positions, sometimes under fire from Japanese naval guns. One tank was lost to a naval depth charge rigged as a landmine—there were 154 such bombs along the road where the tank was destroyed. Some of the tanks were equipped with bow-gun mounted E4-5 flamethrowers, which proved useful against Japanese troops barricaded in buildings. The 1st Cavalry Division reported that the tanks were instrumental in the advance.
The 37th Division’s 148th Infantry, meanwhile, put its first troops across the Pasig River on 7 February using assault boats, followed by troops carried by the 672d Amphibian Tractor Battalion, which had accompanied the 37th Infantry Division all the way from Lingayen Gulf. The next day, LVTs carried the 1st Battalion, 129th Infantry, across the river.[xv]

*

The 1st Cavalry Division crossed the Pasig several days later. On the south bank, tankers, doughs, and troopers became embroiled in urban warfare like that in Cassino and Aachen. “It was a crazy kind of fighting in Manila south of the Pasig River,” reported one journalist who covered the 44th Tank Battalion’s engagements. “A tank commander’s fire order to his gunner would not designate a particular building to be shelled, but instead a specific window on a certain floor of a particular structure. Instead of normal 75mm gun ranges, they were firing sometimes at twenty-five to fifty yards. On one occasion, U.S. troops held the lower floors of a tall building, the Nips remaining in the upper stories. In the narrow street alongside, one tank paused just long enough for a Japanese to toss a dynamite charge from the roof. His aim was perfect, and it landed on the helmet of the tank commander, Sgt. Albert Kramer. . . . Serious injury, of course, resulted. . . .” The reporter noted that this was a result of the 44th Battalion’s having to fight with the hatches unbuttoned so the commander could see the battlefield.[xvi]

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M4A1 Shermans roll through Manila on 23 February 1945. In ten days of street fighting, Company B, 44th Tank Battalion, expended 3,500 rounds of 75mm and 183,000 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition. (U.S. Navy photo)

“The fighting was the toughest yet encountered by our troops,” recorded the 129th Infantry Regiment. “It was like Bougainville in reverse but instead of attacking log and sand pillboxes, we were up against concrete emplacements thoroughly fortified and prepared and strategically emplaced to offer the best fields of fire.” The Japanese had constructed pillboxes in the thick-walled concrete structures at nearly every corner, and the GIs advanced from building to building, clearing each one top to bottom. Artillery and antiaircraft guns were often hidden in doorways or behind second-story windows.
The cavalrymen and tankers had to work out ad hoc tactics that greatly resembled those developed in the first big urban battles in Italy and Germany. “For the tanks as well as the infantry, this was a new type of warfare,” recorded the 754th Tank Battalion. “Our tactics were revised and became more flexible to meet the change in conditions. The tanks were used primarily as mobile artillery, firing at strong points at very close range.”
The importance of tight control over who was on which street was demonstrated on 11 February when two tanks from the 754th Battalion—still stuck north of the Pasig because all bridges were down—pounded the 129th Infantry’s Company E, an event the regiment termed a “debacle.” Massed artillery fire against single buildings increasingly became the tactical fix at first.
The 37th Infantry Division did not even use 754th Battalion medium tanks in a direct-fire, close support role until 14 February, when Shermans and M7 assault guns from the infantry’s cannon company pounded the new police station, built of heavily reinforced concrete, to weaken the defenses for an assault by the 129th Infantry Regiment. Thereafter, the division used tanks aggressively to support infantry attacks.
The assault gun platoon from the 711th Tank Battalion was attached to the 37th Division on 17 February to provide even more tactical firepower. By 19 February, the infantry also brought up 155mm howitzers to blast openings in the thickest walls, just as had the 1st Infantry Division in Aachen.[xvii]
Tank company and platoon attachments within the cavalry division, meanwhile, changed frequently, and the 44th Tank Battalion was scattered once again on 13 February when Company A was sent to the 11th Airborne Division south of Manila.[xviii] The grinding battle in Manila wore on. Many tanks expended between three and four units of fire per day.[xix] Tanks fell victim to antitank guns, landmines, and satchel charges, and for once, many of them were burning.[xx] One was hit on the right sponson by a 120mm dual-purpose gun from only seventy-five yards distance. Another was penetrated four times by 47mm fire, and then hit by a 120mm HE round. A satchel charge was dropped into the turret of another, and one more was destroyed by a shaped charge placed against the armor.[xxi]
The battle for Manila effectively ended on 24 February, when the 37th Infantry Division fully occupied the old walled city of Intramuros, though fighting dragged on for another week.
See my website: World War II History by Harry Yeide
See the book from which this article largely derives: The Infantry's Armor
[i] MacDonald, The Siegfried Line Campaign, 231 ff.
[ii] Ibid., 260 ff; AAR, 743d Tank Battalion.
[iii] MacDonald, The Siegfried Line Campaign, 306.
[iv] AAR, 743d Tank Battalion.
[v] “Clearing Area South of the Rail Road Tracks,” Combat Interviews, 1st Infantry Division, NARA.
[vi] “Clearing Area South of the Rail Road Tracks,” Combat Interviews, 1st Infantry Division, NARA.
[vii] Ibid. MacDonald, The Siegfried Line Campaign , 310. Campbell, 50-51.
[viii] “Clearing Area South of the Rail Road Tracks,” Combat Interviews, 1st Infantry Division, NARA.
[ix] Desmond Hawkins, ed., War Report, D-day to VE-day (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1985), 212–213.
[x] “Clearing Area South of the Rail Road Tracks,” Combat Interviews, 1st Infantry Division, National Archives. Gefechtsbericht des I.SS-Btl. (Kampfgruppe Rink) für die Zeit vom 9. – 22.10.44, Ia KTB, LXXXI Armee Korps, National Archives. Rhineland. 15.
[xi] Robert Ross Smith, Triumph in the Philippines: The United States Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific (Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1963), 18-19, 142. Luzon, the U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II Series (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, n.d., online reprint of CMH Pub 72-28, http://www.army.mil/...luzon/72-28.htm as of July 2006), 9.
[xii] Peter R. Wygle, “Santo Thomas Raid,” 1st Cavalry Division Association, http://www.1cda.org/...Thomas_raid.htm, as of March 2007. (Hereafter Wygle.)
[xiii] Luzon, 11. Wygle.
[xiv] Wygle. History, 44th Tank Battalion. Smith, Triumph in the Philippines, 220. AAR, 1st Cavalry Division.
[xv] History, 44th Tank Battalion. “The Flame Thrower in the Pacific: Marianas to Okinawa.” Smith, Triumph in the Philippines, 258-259.
[xvi] “Tanks Go Places ‘Tanks Can’t Go’ on Luzon,” Armored News, 18 June 1945, 4. AAR, 1st Cavalry Division. AAR, 37th Infantry Division. AAR, 129th Infantry Regiment.
[xvii] AAR, 129th Infantry Regiment. AAR, 37th Infantry Division. AAR, 754th Tank Battalion.
[xviii] History, 44th Tank Battalion.
[xix] “Requirements of the Tank Design and Operation in Relation to Effectiveness of Armored Personnel,” Pacific Warfare Board Report No. 60, 9 September 1945, NARA, RG 407, Special File, 4-7.60/45, box 24464. (Hereafter “Requirements of the Tank Design and Operation in Relation to Effectiveness of Armored Personnel.”)
[xx] History, 44th Tank Battalion.
[xxi] “Questionnaire for Armored (Tank) Units,” Pacific Warfare Board Report No. 74, 26 October 1945, NARA, RG 407, Special File, 4-7.74/45, box 24464. (Hereafter “Questionnaire for Armored [Tank] Units.”)

Trauma05 #2 Posted Sep 01 2013 - 10:32

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Great read and interesting info!

SMScannonfodder #3 Posted Sep 01 2013 - 15:14

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Love these stories and bits of untold history, thanks Chieftain <o

fsjd #4 Posted Sep 01 2013 - 16:18

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Quote

When the Americans start using 155s as sniper weapons, it is time to give up.
priceless.


good read as usual chieftan!

hockeycarter2002 #5 Posted Sep 02 2013 - 04:44

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World of Tanks

hockeycarter2002 #6 Posted Sep 02 2013 - 04:45

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Hi can I have codes for gold

weesh #7 Posted Sep 03 2013 - 07:43

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Aug 31 2013 - 00:00, said:

The Germans finally surrendered on 21 October. Corley’s troops had reached the German CP and were using a 155mm gun against the outer walls. Oberst Gerhard Wilck, the garrison commander, surrendered at 1205 hours, commenting, “When the Americans start using 155s as sniper weapons, it is time to give up.”
yay!

I alluded to this quote HERE, in the first part.  That was my favorite part of the book, and I had forgotten the exact wording.  

Chieftain, what was the specific artillery piece that was used for this?  I was disappointed that the book was vague on that point.

The_Chieftain #8 Posted Sep 03 2013 - 07:53

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M12 GMC

Daigensui #9 Posted Sep 03 2013 - 08:19

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Interesting article, as usual.

xiaomingzc #10 Posted Sep 06 2013 - 07:52

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[Content removed]
Non-constructive/Spam
6h RO issued
~GM/Mod Teams

zloykrolik #11 Posted Sep 06 2013 - 22:31

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View Postxiaomingzc, on Sep 06 2013 - 07:52, said:

[Content removed]
WTF?
trolling pretty hard

ColoneMesy #12 Posted Sep 11 2013 - 01:04

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I know this is a game and not realistic, but whats the fighting similar to whats was portrayed in here? http://www.youtube.c...VTwltTTIo  Also according to the photos, why did tank commanders had their hatches open and head sticking, exposing themselves to enemy fire in the streets? It doesn't make sense to expose yourself to snipers and bullets when you have a periscope.

Edited by ColoneMesy, Sep 11 2013 - 01:09.


The_Chieftain #13 Posted Sep 11 2013 - 03:11

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It's very difficult to spot threats or targets from inside a tank when buttoned up. You may be safe from snipers, but your whole crew may now be at risk from the guy with the panzerfaust that you didn't see. It becomes a personal judgement call.

Waelwulf #14 Posted Sep 11 2013 - 16:07

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Sep 11 2013 - 03:11, said:

It's very difficult to spot threats or targets from inside a tank when buttoned up. You may be safe from snipers, but your whole crew may now be at risk from the guy with the panzerfaust that you didn't see. It becomes a personal judgement call.

Which is why a common tactic (even today) is to open up with small-arms fire or MGs to have the tank button-up so that they don't see someone else sneaking up on them.

markimark410 #15 Posted Nov 15 2013 - 10:28

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real good information great read

Legiondude #16 Posted Dec 07 2013 - 13:22

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“When the Americans start using 155s as sniper weapons, it is time to give up.”

Heh




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