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The Can-Openers, America's Successful Failure


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The_Chieftain #1 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 01:56

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Allow me to quote from Wiki:

“U.S. Army doctrine held that tanks did not fight other tanks but supported infantry”

This is common knowledge. As a result, there was never any need to equip the tanks with a gun capable of dealing with the German tanks, the Tank Destroyer force could do that job. The end result of this policy was a woefully inadequate standard tank which was all but incapable of dealing with the opposition it faced, resulting in otherwise avoidable death. The error of this way of thinking was finally identified by the end of 1945 and the tank destroyers gotten rid of, making the Tank Destroyer Branch pretty much the shortest lived branch in Army history. Simple, really, we've all pretty much heard it.

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One of the things that gets drilled into you in OCS is “Show me the regs.”  Armored Force doctrine was laid out in FM 17-10, it’s available online in PDF format. Next time someone comes back to you with the statement that “American tanks weren’t supposed to fight other tanks”, give them the link to the FM, and ask them to show you where, in the written doctrine signed and approved by General Marshall, Chief of Staff of the Army on behalf of the Secretary of War with force of direct order, it says that tanks were not to fight other tanks.

Here’s the short version. It doesn’t. He or she will be looking for a while. (Indeed, it states that both medium and (optimistically) light tanks could perform the anti-armour role)

There are other indicators as well. The creation of the stopgap M3 Medium is one. The US Armored Force were able to learn their lessons from the Europeans. The fall of France very quickly pointed out that the M2 with its 37mm gun just wasn’t going to cut it. The Germans even had mounted (gasp!) a 75mm on the MkIV! The US needed a new tank with a big gun to deal with the bigger tanks now roaming the battlefield, and it needed it now. Of course, the Tank Destroyer branch had not yet been created, but the concept of divisional anti-tank units was already fairly well sold in the minds of people such as McNair.

When the requirements for M4 Medium were laid out in Sept 1941, it specified that a variety of weapons be capable of being mounted into the tank. The 76mm gun M1 armed M4 Medium was approved in August 1942, before anyone, even the Russians, had encountered a Tiger. Indeed, up until then, there was only ever one encounter between US tankers in M3s and German tanks: On 11 June 1942, three crews claimed destruction of 9 German tanks with their Grants near Tobruk.

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It seemed to indicate that the 75mm with American gunners was capable of dealing with the German tanks pretty well, but even so a -better- AP gun was approved for the tank at the known cost of HE capability. If the M4 medium was not supposed to fight other tanks, then why did the Army do this?

So, now we’ve dealt with that little issue, what –were- the can-openers for?

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For that, hop on over to FM 18-5, the doctrine for the tank destroyers.

“Tank destroyer groups are intended for action against massed tank forces. As part of the mobile reserve of the high command, they are initially so disposed as to facilitate their rapid entry into action against large armored forces.

a. Tank destroyer groups which are attached to units engaged in offensive combat assist the attack by furnishing protection against large scale counterattacks by hostile tanks. They follow the attack closely, moving by bounds from one position in readiness to another. In enveloping attacks, they are usually echeloned toward the interior behind the enveloping flank.

b. Tank destroyer groups attached to units whose action is defensive are usually held in mobile reserve until the enemy's main effort is indicated and then engaged in mass against the hostile armored force. Depending on the situation, this may be prior to or after the launching of the hostile armored attack.“

Of particular note is this little passage.

“MASS.—The employment of tank destroyer units will be in mass. The battalion is the smallest unit which should be engaged separately. Employment of small tank destroyer units as independent defensive elements and their distribution with a view to covering every possible avenue of tank approach or to affording immediate protection to all echelons of the forces leads to uncoordinated action and dispersion with consequent loss of effectiveness”

In a nutshell, the TDs were anti-armour units –par excellence-, effectively to enhance the anti-armour capabilities of the supported organisations, not to replace them entirely.

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Now, there were certainly failings in doctrine when it met reality. One was the belief that the 76mm gun on the M4 was sufficient to destroy enemy tanks. The reason M4 wasn’t given a bigger gun wasn’t doctrinal, the Americans just seemed to be utterly convinced that the M1 could do the job. To give an example, quoting an exasperated Eisenhower in July 1944: “Why is it that I am always the last person to hear about this stuff? Ordnance told me this 76mm would take care of anything the Germans had. Now I find you can’t knock out a damn thing with it.” Of course, by that point, it was a little late in the game. We can then go on about all the conspiracy theories as to why the Americans were so late in getting Fireflies or T26s (and we will, at a future point in time) but suffice to say, they really thought that Shermans could take on all the German tanks. Another is the fact that with few exceptions, those massed armour engagements that the TD force was designed to deal with never showed up. As a result, the TDs ended up being split up into smaller units contrary to doctrine. About the only true material concession to the concept of primacy of TDs over tanks in anti-armour combat was the allocation of HVAP ammunition in some units. But even that makes a bit of sense given the purpose of the TDs as anti-armour specialists. But as far as tank destroyers as a concept, they obviously weren’t wrong: Most every major force, German, Russian, British, used them. Granted, however, the German and Russian TDs at least were well-suited for the combat which was predominant: small-scale engagements at close range where heavy armour was of more import than operational mobility at which the American TDs excelled.

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There was also one other advantage that the TD crews had over their tanker colleagues, their training specifically focused on dealing with enemy armour first of all, everything else secondary. As a result, they would be better at it than anyone else. This training could make a world of difference to the end result: One tank unit in Italy had the TD crewmen train the tankers on detailed anti-armour tactics, and they saw their kill rate go from multiple losses per kill and move to multiple kills per loss.

Indeed, that kill ratio is pretty much a common feature of the TD units. We’re used to talking about losing multiple M4s for every German tank killed. To a point, this is to be expected, as the Allies spent most of their time advancing. However, the TDs also spent most of their time advancing, and their kill ratios were usually positive. One battalion (703rd) had a 10:1 kill to loss ratio, and it’s important to note that many of those losses would not have come from armour but anything from mines, artillery, Panzerfaust or other such devilish contrivances of the enemy. 3:1 seemed to have been more common. On the occasions that the TDs did what they were supposed to do, and that was kill tanks, they proved to be very good at it. 823rd TD claimed 64 MkIVs, 27 Mk V, and 18 MkVI amongst the 113 tanks claimed destroyed. On Christmas Day at Bastogne, the 705th claimed 27 panzers for the loss of six guns. 704th claimed 39 kills at Arracourt for the loss of four guns. (figures from Yeide and Zaloga)

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A secondary function was that, true to McNair's roots in artillery branch, the TDs were additional self-propelled artillery assets. Particularly so in Italy, where the terrain usually wasn’t suited much to anti-tank maneuver, and the smaller 76mm rounds didn’t do much damage to the roads. Even in France, TD units could fire some eight or nine indirect rounds for every direct round fired.

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So the American TDs performed with distinction. They could knock out tanks well, they could provide fire support when there were no enemy tanks, they even performed some amount of infantry support, when there were no friendly tanks. The accurare, high velocity cannon proved particularly useful against point reinforced targets such as bunkers. M18s were even used as convoy escorts because they could keep up with the trucks. Why, then was the branch disbanded?

Well, that’s why I say ‘successful failure.’ There were two main issues. One was to do with the equipment. For example, lessons learned in North Africa indicated that towed guns could be devastating to armoured vehicles. As a result, half the US tank destroyer battalions were re-equipped with towed 3” guns.  Only problem was that by the time they were re-fitted, the war in North Africa was over, and it was time for an offensive action in Europe, for which the towed guns were ill-suited. Oops.

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Another problem was that the guns the TDs were equipped with generally had difficulty with the larger German tanks, though this was generally rectified by the M36 once the shortcoming had been identified. This wasn’t a doctrinal deficiency, just a delusional one. The other issue was that the tanks were often used as TDs, and the TDs often used as tanks as the situation dictated. M10, M18 and M4(76) all had similar anti-armour capabilities, just the TDs had less ability to deal with infantry. It was an inefficient use of manpower to have multiple corps and items of equipment to do overlapping jobs. When M26 came out, that seemed to seal the fate. What could M36 Jacksons do that M26 Pershings could not?

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The answer was, well, not much, really (We'll come back to this as well). Instead of having entire reserves of tank destroying vehicles sitting, waiting for the massed enemy armour attack, why not simply grab tanks and create a local reserve as required and use them as tanks the rest of the time?

Yet, though the Tank Destroyer force was disbanded, that was not the end of the tank destroyer men. We just called them something else, like 11-Hotels. Some of the TDs, like the M56 filled a role that no tank could do, such as provide interesting recoil experiences...

http://statcdn.world...rs/m56scorp.jpg

...but was the ITV was a tank destroyer which could not have been replaced in the role of protecting and supporting infantry by a tank? Other forces such as the Germans kept their tank destroyers, and Soviet doctrine dictated that the primary anti-tank system was a missile, not a tank. Tank Destroyers may have become a bit of a taboo term in the US, but the role was alive and well.

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The irony is that the whole shebang came full circle with the introduction of the M1A1. Here was a vehicle designed with the primary purpose of the destruction of enemy armour. No ammunition other than Sabot (Anti-heavy-armour) and HEAT (anti-light armour) was provided for the main gun. Bradleys could do the infantry support role. An exact reverse from the first paragraph of this commentary. America's latest tank in 1986 was really a tank destroyer.

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I await incoming fire.

weveran #2 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 02:47

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The same can be said for German armour - we focus on the tanks predomitably but lets face it the highest kill to loss ratio was in their TD's and Assault Gun units - iirc the Stug III was the most successful tank killer in WW2 and it was primarily designed as an infantry support unit.

I'd also argue the firefly was a TD as there was no HE round for the 17lber - it was purely an anti-tank gun whereas an equivilent German weapon (75mmL70) was equipped with a very suitable HE round.

Interesting read Chief - always is

Drakenred #3 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 02:51

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and now the M-1A1 carries rounds like Canister and M830A1 MPAT (with the proximity fuse option) its Capable of (limmeted) anti air

C78AMF #4 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 03:12

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Good article except that in june 44, Eisenhower was complaining about the 75mm, not the 76mm, the M4 with the 76mm was not deployed in combat until after Sept. 44. Also the U.S. did not use the firefly, that was a British conversion using an adapted 17Pdr gun.

John_Paul_Pwns #5 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 03:26

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The M4 sounds a lot like the Bradley then. It has anti-armor capability, but everyone was hoping there would be an asset around (like the TD corp, Artillery, or nowadays the Abram or air support). to deal with the enemy tank.

Just because doctrine suggested it could engage enemy tanks, doesn't mean it was good at it. Plus, we front line soldiers all know that Doctrine and SOP is the last bastion of weak minded ;)

As far as the TD's go, when american TD's got to do their thing, they performed remarkably well. But a general lack of "Tank country" in Europe didn't really give them a chance to do it often. They did have some brilliant moments, the ones with Task Force Desorby at Bastogne come to mind (They melted some Panzer face).

Of course America started to shift more towards a Tank that could both, and later IFV's to do the close support.

Still I like to maintain, as much as a former Mechanized Infantry might want too, that the M4 Sherman is the spiritual ancestor of the M2A2 Bradley.

Ogopogo #6 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 03:30

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View Postrwheflin, on Oct 07 2011 - 03:12, said:

Good article except that in june 44, Eisenhower was complaining about the 75mm, not the 76mm, the M4 with the 76mm was not deployed in combat until after Sept. 44. Also the U.S. did not use the firefly, that was a British conversion using an adapted 17Pdr gun.

Actually you are wrong there. He did not claim that the US had them, that they were late getting them. The Americans at the end of the war actually sent some M4's away to be converted to fireflies. The war ended before they got them back, and they did not end up taking them back from the British.

The_Chieftain #7 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 03:34

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View Postweveran, on Oct 07 2011 - 02:47, said:

I'd also argue the firefly was a TD as there was no HE round for the 17lber - it was purely an anti-tank gun whereas an equivilent German weapon (75mmL70) was equipped with a very suitable HE round.

That statement requires some enhancement. 17Pr had HE capability from day one. However, shell HE, Mk1 was not authorised for use in the tanks as it was considered too long to fit into the ammunition racks. Shell, HE, Mk2, however, was 3.95" shorter, and was AFV-friendly.

View PostDrakenred, on Oct 07 2011 - 02:51, said:

and now the M-1A1 carries rounds like Canister and M830A1 MPAT (with the proximity fuse option) its Capable of (limmeted) anti air

And HE-OR. But interestingly, it still doesn't have a pure HE round in the US inventory. (It can fire one, the Swedes and Germans have made one for the gun the US just hasn't bought it.)

View Postrwheflin, on Oct 07 2011 - 03:12, said:

Good article except that in june 44, Eisenhower was complaining about the 75mm, not the 76mm, the M4 with the 76mm was not deployed in combat until after Sept. 44. Also the U.S. did not use the firefly, that was a British conversion using an adapted 17Pdr gun.

Re: Ike. Nope, he was talking about the 76mm, unless you want to claim typos by people such as Fletcher. Also, I'm looking at a photo in my Hunnicutt of an M4A1(76) of 33rd AR in Reffuveille, dated 08JUL44, complete with Rhinocerous bocage-cutter.
As for the Fireflies, remember the beginning of this article was a poke at 'common knowledge'? Just how much do you really want to stake that I'm wrong? (I am wrong sometimes, but if it's something obvious, there might be more to it!)

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The Americans at the end of the war actually sent some M4's away to be converted to fireflies. The war ended before they got them back, and they did not end up taking them back from the British.

US Army registered Fireflies. Note also the US-style cupolas and skirting.
http://web.inter.nl....s/fireflyus.jpg

Of the 81 built for the US forces, apparently one company in Italy (555 TD Bn) actually had them on strength. Zaloga has some detail on the matter on the web somewhere.

John_Paul_Pwns #8 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 03:35

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Did the Chieftain just read a book called "The Tank Killers" by Harry Yeide by any chance?

The_Chieftain #9 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 03:40

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View PostPanzerSchofield, on Oct 07 2011 - 03:35, said:

Did the Chieftain just read a book called "The Tank Killers" by Harry Yeide by any chance?

Nope. I read it a couple of years ago, and has been on my shelf ever since. It is a good book, and I brought it into the office to reference as I wrote this (Note I cite Yeide as a reference in my commentary).

He has a website to peruse here, if you're interested. http://web.mac.com/y.../Home_Page.html

John_Paul_Pwns #10 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 03:43

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Oct 07 2011 - 03:40, said:

Nope. I read it a couple of years ago, and has been on my shelf ever since. It is a good book, and I brought it into the office to reference as I wrote this (Note I cite Yeide as a reference in my commentary).

He has a website to peruse here, if you're interested. http://web.mac.com/y.../Home_Page.html

It tis' an excellent book. Read it this summer while I was grinding for my Wolverine ;)

FreeFOXMIKE #11 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 03:47

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well done

And yes TD's were in support of the Infantry,but everything was,even the Air Force (then called Army Air Corp's), Tank Destroyers are like Rodney  Dangerfield (they don't get no respect) In Patton's assaults,most times it was Lead by TD units. Most notability  the Tank,and TD mix of the 761st ,and even then the 761 being a Tanker unit got what little credit was ever given to the unit.

    During the Battle of the Bulge, German soldiers who had raided American warehouses were reported to have disguised themselves as Americans  guarding the checkpoints in order to ambush American soldiers. Patton  solved this problem by ordering black soldiers, including the 761st, to  guard the checkpoints, and gave the order to shoot any white soldiers at  the checkpoints who acted suspiciously.

The battalion first saw combat on 7 November 1944, fighting through towns such as Moyenvic, Vic-sur-Seille and Morville, often at the leading edge of the advance. The unit endured 183 days of continuous operational employment.( unusual as most Battalions only lasted 14 days)


In November 1944 the unit had suffered 156 casualties; 24 men killed,  88 wounded, and 44 non-battle. The unit also lost 14 tanks and another  20 damaged in combat. In December, the battalion was rushed to the aid  of the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne.

After the Battle of the Bulge, the unit opened the way for the U.S. 4th Armored Division into Germany during an action that breached the Siegfried Line. In the final days of the war in Europe, the 761st was one of the first American units to reach the Steyr in Austria, at the Enns River, where they met with Ukrainians of the Soviet Army.

The 761st was deactivated 1 June 1946 in Germany.

Known TD units of the time.
http://tankdestroyer...id=46&Itemid=56

FreeFOXMIKE #12 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 04:02

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other Interesting TD finds:

http://www.bensavelk...oyers_Story.htm

http://www.bensavelk...k_Battalion.jpg
http://www.bensavelkoul.nl/M18.jpg

_Tracked_ #13 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 04:45

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Quote

The Can-Openers, America's Successful Failure

Well, I'm far from an unbiased source, but I think I'm a successful success. ^_^

eblingus #14 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 04:51

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Some other interesting facts that distinguished the TD force from armor:  the integrated reconnaissance force, as you can see from the TOE above, and that the officers were trained with the artillery, so were much better (supposedly) at calling for fire than armor officers.  There was one famous TD battle in Tunisia, in which a TD battalion actually defeated a German massed armor attack, just like the doctrine said they should.  Cool!  Perhaps someone remembers the name of that battle?  :Smile_honoring:

CdtWeasel #15 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 05:10

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Can't say I have anything to add, but I'm sure learning alot.  Thanks for the lesson.

rollingthunderX #16 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 05:14

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everyone else has brought up issues about the ww2 stuff so ill take my comment to the end statement. about the M1.   a tank destroyer? a main battle tank is designed for anti everything.  the hep (high explosive anti personnel) was no longer put on the "roster" and i for one as a tanker when the M1 first came out am glad. the thought of a 105mm shot gun was some thing i never wanted to see what would happen if used against real people. the sabot was really all we needed to load with a few heats for things like bunkers. the op never tanks into account the switch to mech infantry as things progressed. or any part of how combat armor progressed to be multi functional. alot changed in the rest of the world because of the german  tank designs everyone used stop gaps aka td's and still have them today only the hand held or as far away as a radio. the biggest switch that the op never mentioned was that infantry was used to keep the tank alive and not the other way around.

opposum #17 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 05:36

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I take it as a slap in the face and a forewarning that the M103 and t110 are going to be shat. Thanks for the burn!..............

The_Chieftain #18 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 06:25

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View PostrollingthunderX, on Oct 07 2011 - 05:14, said:

about the M1.   a tank destroyer? a main battle tank is designed for anti everything.

Yes, I agree with you that an MBT should be capable of dealing with most anything on the modern battlefield. Which is why I think it is interesting to point out that M1 for some fifteen years was not capable of doing so. By way of example, when I was in Iraq, there was not a single main gun round in my tank which was suitable for firing in support of infantry to my front quarter. If the target was something which a .50cal could not deal with, the two options were to call for something else (Brad 25mm or HMMWV with Mk19), or get the infantry to move somewhere where they wouldn't be hit by stray sabot petals from an APFSDS or MPAT round. That is a pretty fundamental lack of capability for a tank, would you not agree?

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the hep (high explosive anti personnel) was no longer put on the "roster" and i for one as a tanker when the M1 first came out am glad. the thought of a 105mm shot gun was some thing i never wanted to see what would happen if used against real people.

HEP is High Explosive, Plastic. The American name for HESH. Are you mixing it up with Beehive (APERS)? HEP is a capability which was lost when the M1 upgraded from the 105mm to the 120mm. The fact that the Stryker MGS, whose primary function is the support of infantry, still uses the round is evidence of the utility of such a muntion today, and reinforces the fact that US doctrine doesn't seem to think the capability is much of a requirement for the tank.

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the sabot was really all we needed to load with a few heats for things like bunkers. the op never tanks into account the switch to mech infantry as things progressed. or any part of how combat armor progressed to be multi functional. alot changed in the rest of the world because of the german  tank designs everyone used stop gaps aka td's and still have them today only the hand held or as far away as a radio. the biggest switch that the op never mentioned was that infantry was used to keep the tank alive and not the other way around.

Not sure exactly what you're trying to say here. The tank/infantry team has been identified since WWII. As for who protects whom, it depends greatly on the terrain. Tanks require infantry to protect them in woods and cities as they support the infantry, but in the open desert, the tanks keep the infantry alive. This has not changed over the decades.

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I take it as a slap in the face and a forewarning that the M103 and t110 are going to be shat

Joke? I did not make any reference to M103 or T110.

weveran #19 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 06:44

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Not being a tanker as referenced in another thread here, but having an active interest (doh for obviousness!!) does the 120mm on the Leopard 2 have/had a anti-infantry round now/from day one? (as the gun on the M1A1/A2/A3 is the same German gun (Rheinmetal iirc) correct?)

Now back to WW2. US TD units were deployed with Infantry in the main correct? Is there any recorded times where they operated as part of an armoured units ToE?

rollingthunderX #20 Posted Oct 07 2011 - 07:18

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it is late when i replied. yes you are correct on the APERS round. and not to back step from anything i said most of my training was eand of cold war  before the wall korea dont get off the road and dessert dont get in my way  as far as you sabot comment i really never even thought about that. ive seen trees tore up and has afew bounce off my tank so ya not a great thing. i think mech infantry has changed role alot your rolling with infantry that brings their own support cue the bradley or in the game we talking about a light tank. the speed they have is not designed for rushes it designed to keep up with each other. the movies show infantry riding on an M4. the M1 had lots of places to sleep on but not sur if i want to ride on top in combat it was made to kill and doesn't care who. and im sure i will be corrected if wrong but what i was told is the 120 was the standard NATO round so we switched for supply issues. not because of issues with the 105 that we had used forever




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