US Army in World War II
Armor and Tank Types
by Rich Anderson
US armored units underwent a considerable number of changes - most of them
forced by operational requirements -- during the war. The most significant of
these were the reorganization of the armored divisions in 1943 and the modified
Tables of Equipment (TE) that were utilized by most tank battalions in Europe
during late 1944 and early 1945. The modified TE was put in effect when losses
of medium tanks in Europe outpaced the Army's ability to replace them and
reduced the number of medium tanks in the battalion from fifty-three to
forty-one. All of the light armored divisions and separate tank battalions in
Europe in the fall of 1944 were placed on the modified establishment. It is
probable that those divisions (8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th) and battalions that
arrived in late 1944 retained the original TE, although some separate
battalions were temporarily stripped of equipment to provide replacement stocks
for the battalions that were already in combat. One battalion, the 740th, was
stripped when it arrived in Europe in December 1944. Then it was hastily
refitted from a British tank repair depot on 18 December and was flung into the
path of KG Pieper during the Ardennes Offensive. The 740th's odd lot of
equipment included M4s, Fireflies, M10 and M36 tank destroyers, and M8 armored
cars, all of which were equipped with British radios -- which the Americans
didn't know how to use! Despite this handicap the battalion (actually a
reinforced company) materially assisted in halting Pieper's advance west of
Stoumont Station by a combination of good luck and excellent gunnery.
As first organized, the armored regiments medium tank was the M3A1 or M3A4
Grant, the light tank was the M3 or M3A1 Stuart, and the assault gun was the
T30 Howitzer Motor Carriage (a 105mm howitzer mounted on an armored halftrack).
In early 1943 the M4 Sherman the M3 series. Later in 1943 the M5 Stuart
replaced the M3 and a purpose designed assault gun, the M8 HMC 75mm, replaced
the T30. The M4 105mm assault gun in turn replaced the M8 in early 1944, except
in the light tank battalions.
A total of 16 armored divisions were eventually organized (1st-14th, 16th, and
20th). Of these, only two, the 2nd and the 3rd retained the "heavy"
organization throughout the war. All of the other divisions were reorganized as
light divisions prior to leaving the US (except the 1st, which converted to the
light organization while in Italy during July 1944). All of the armored
divisions served in the ETO or in Italy.
The light armor division organization (TO&E 17-2, dated 15 September 1943)
included a Division Headquarters and Headquarters (H&H) Company, two Combat
Command Headquarters (CCA and CCB), a Reserve Combat Command Headquarters
(CCR), three tank battalions (of three medium and one light tank companies),
three armored infantry battalions, three eighteen-gun artillery battalions, a
cavalry reconnaissance squadron (battalion), an engineer battalion, and
division services. The division was commanded by a major general, the combat
commands by a brigadier general (who was also assistant division commander) and
two colonels. The division included 77 light tanks, 168 medium tanks, 18 M4
105mm assault guns, 54 M7 105mm SP artillery pieces, 54 M8 armored cars, 450
halftracks, 1,031 motor vehicles, and 8 light observation aircraft. Total
personnel strength was 10,754.
Two problems with the light armored division as it was organized were quickly
found after the divisions first entered combat in Normandy in June 1944. First,
was that the division had insufficient truck transport space to haul the basic
load of supplies authorized. To correct this, two Quartermaster Truck companies
were permanently attached to each of the light armored divisions. Second, was
that the CCR Headquarters as organized was only capable of administrative
functions and consisted of only eight officers and men. It quickly became
obvious that the ability to field a third, tactical headquarters was highly
desirable. As a result, many of the light divisions had an Armor Group
Headquarters attached to augment CCR (the armor group had proven redundant as a
tactical headquarters commanding separate tank battalions and were usually
assigned to corps).
The heavy armored division organization (TO&E 17-1, dated 1 March 1942,
with Changes 1 & 2, dated to 29 October 1942) included two three-battalion
tank regiments (the 1st battalion was light, with three light tank companies,
the 2nd and 3rd battalions were medium, each with three medium tank companies),
a three-battalion armored infantry regiment, and only two combat commands, the
rest of the divisional units were nearly identical to those in the light
division. The heavy division included 158 light tanks, 232 medium tanks, 24 M4
105mm assault guns, 17 M8 assault guns, 54 M7 105mm SP artillery pieces, 54 M8
armored cars, 640 halftracks, 1,242 motor vehicles, and 8 light observation
aircraft. The total personnel strength of the division was 14,664.
Another problem was associated with both the light and the heavy armor
divisions. Theoretically the armor division was intended to act as the maneuver
reserve for the corps and to break through enemy fronts ruptured by infantry
assaults supported by the separate battalions. The armor division was to
conduct deep pursuit of the enemy once the front was broken through. In
practice, the width of the front in Europe meant that armored divisions were
often used in static defensive roles, for which they were not designed. A
critical weakness was the fact that the infantry component of the division was
to small to withstand the attrition of long-term defensive or offensive
missions. Although they were each over 1,000 men strong, many of the personnel
in the armored infantry battalions were drivers, mechanics, or manned heavy
weapons. As a result, the actual "rifle" strength of the battalion was somewhat
less than one-half that, 450 men.
The armor regiment was organized with nine companies (lettered A-I), a
Headquarters and Headquarters (H&H) Company, an Assault Gun Company, a
Reconnaissance Company, a Service Company, and a Maintenance Company. The
battalions in the regiment each had a small H&H Company (with a Mortar
Platoon) and a Service Company.
The tank battalions of the light armor division and the separate medium tank
battalions were all organized identically. They had four lettered companies
(A-C and D, which was a light tank company), a Service Company, and an H&H
Company with a HQ, a Mortar Platoon, a Reconnaissance Platoon, and an Assault
The MX battalions were similarly organized, but had three MX Tank companies,
lettered A-C, and a medium company, D, which provided gunfire support.
The separate light tank battalions had only three companies (A-C), and were
equipped with three M8 HMC in an Assault Gun Section in the H&H Company,
rather than with a six-gun M4 105mm platoon as in the medium tank battalions.
One-hundred-and-eighteen tank battalions were eventually formed. One was the
sole pre-war Regular Army separate battalion (70th). Ten additional Regular
Army battalions were formed in 1941, prior to the outbreak of war (originally
the 71st-80th, they were later redesignated the 751st-760th). Four were
organized from prewar National Guard tank companies (191st-194th). Seventy-one
were created by the reorganization of the armored divisions (1st-6th, 8th-11th,
13th-27th, 31st, 34th-48th, 68th, 69th, 80th, 81st, 706th-718th, 771st-780th,
and 786th-788th). Thirty were formed as separate battalions (28th, 701st,
702nd, 735th-750th, 761th-764th, 766th, 767th, 781st-785th). Two were created
by converting existing tank destroyer battalions (the 662nd and 812th). Two
were destroyed in the Philippines on 9 April 1942, the 192nd and 194th Light
(except B/194th which remained behind and was reorganized as the 602nd Medium
Tank Company). In addition to the 602nd at least two other separate companies
(the 601st Light and 603rd) were formed and served in the Pacific. The 758th
Light, 761st, and 784th battalions were all Colored units.
The separate battalions were utilized to form a number of specialized units.
Nine were converted to amphibian battalions (the 708th Tank, 715th Tractor,
718th Tractor, 742nd Tank, 764th Tractor, 773rd Tractor, 776th Tank, 780th
Tank, and 788th Tractor), of which two were reorganized as amphibian tractor
battalions (708th and 773rd). All except the 742nd and 764th saw service in the
Pacific. Five were organized as mine exploder (Special, MX) battalions. Three
were reconverted to standard medium battalions in the field, but the 738th and
739th were used operationally for mine clearing in Europe. One was equipped as
a flamethrower tank battalion, the 713th, and two others, the 743rd and 747th,
were partially equipped as flamethrowers. The 28th Tank Battalion was activated
as an airborne tank battalion, but was reorganized as a medium battalion in
Of the sixty-one separate tank battalions on 1 January 1945:
Thirty-one were in the ETO: the 70th (also served in Tunisia and Sicily as
a light tank battalion), 191st (also served in Tunisia and Italy), 701st,
702nd, 707th, 709th, 712th, 735th, 736th, 737th, 738th MX, 739th MX, 740th,
741st, 743rd, 744th Light, 745th, 746th, 747th, 748th, 749th, 750th, 753rd
(also served in Sicily and Italy), 756th (also served in Tunisia, Sicily, and
Italy as a light tank battalion, reorganized as a medium battalion 15 Dec 43),
759th Light, 761st, 771st, 774th, 778th, 781st, and 784th.
Six were in the MTO: the 751st, 752nd, 755th, 757th, 758th Light, and 760th.
Thirteen were in the PTO: the 44th, 193rd, 706th, 710th, 711th, 713th Armored
Flamethrower, 716th, 754th, 762nd, 763rd, 766th, 767th, and 775th.
Six were in route to the ETO: the 717th, 772nd, 777th, 782nd, 786th, and 787th.
Five were in the US: the 28th, 779th and 785th were all sent to the Philippines
in 1945, but didn't see combat), the 662nd (disbanded February 1945) and the
812th never left the U.S.
Three otherwise standard medium battalions were equipped and trained in the use
of Duplex-Drive (DD) tanks for the Normandy Invasion (the 70th, 741st, and
743rd). Three DD-equipped battalions also participated in the invasion of
southern France (the 191st, 753rd, and 756th), while one was utilized in the
crossing of the Rhine River, the 736th.
Three DD-equipped battalions also participated in the invasion of southern
France (the 191st, 753rd, and 756th), while one was utilized in the crossing of
the Rhine River, the 736th.
In addition to those converted from tank battalions, thirteen other amphibian
tractor battalions (the 534th, 535th, 536th, 539th, 540th, 658th, 672nd, 720th,
726th, 727th, 728th, and 826th) and one amphibian tank battalion (the 795th)
were formed, some by converting existing tank destroyer and armored infantry
battalions. All except for the 535th, 720th and the 795th saw service in the
Tank Types Available
Medium tank types utilized included the M3 Grant, M4 Sherman 75mm, M4 Sherman
76mm, and the M26 Pershing. All tank battalions that landed in Normandy were
equipped with the M4 Sherman 75. However, by late June and early July of 1944,
a number of M4 Sherman 76mm tanks were available and began to replace the 75mm
armed tanks. Replaced M4 Sherman 75 tanks were then refitted by Ordnance
workshops (when possible) with the 76mm. By late 1944 there was usually one M4
Sherman 76mm per platoon. However, the 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th Armored
divisions which arrived in late 1944 were entirely equipped with the M4 Sherman
76mm. This was also true of the divisions which arrived in 1945 (the 12th,
13th, 14th, 16th, and 20th). Of course, combat losses in these divisions were
replaced by whatever was available -- which often meant M4 Sherman 75 mm tanks.
An important variant of the M4 was the M4A3E2 Jumbo assault tank. This modified
vehicle was heavily armored (although all initial production models were
equipped with the 75mm). Few (254) were factory built, however Ordnance
workshops of the US First and Third Armies successfully modified many M4s in
the field to Jumbos (between January and March 1945 the Third Army alone
produced 108 of these "ersatz Jumbos," it appears that about 100 additional
were produced in 1944). Allocation of the Jumbo varied. Usually they were found
in the armored divisions, although some First Army separate tank battalions
also had them. Normally there was no more than one "Jumbo" per company,
although some divisions organized them as a complete company within the
The first M26 Pershing tanks were delivered in January 1945, the 3rd and 9th
Armored divisions each being issued ten. In the 9th Armored Division these were
used to form a temporary 4th Platoon in two tank companies. Those of the 9th
Armored Division participated in the seizure of the Remagen Bridge. The M24
Chaffee light tank appeared in the ETO in December 1944, initially going to the
759th Light Tank Battalion, and then, as available, to the light tank companies
of the armored divisions and cavalry mechanized squadrons.
The tank destroyer force was created as a mobile GHQ antitank reserve in 1941.
The original concept called for battalions to be concentrated in tank destroyer
brigades and groups for employment en masse against an armored threat. In
practice, the realities of combat and the erosion of the German Panzer force
meant that the tank destroyers were usually attached individually to divisions.
Initial War Department plans called for the creation of 220 TD battalions, a
figure that was never achieved. By the end of 1943, 106 battalions were in
existence of which fifty-six served in Europe or Italy and six in the Pacific.
Eleven of the remaining battalions were converted to armored field artillery,
amphibious tractor, chemical mortar, or tank battalions. Thirty-six battalions
were disbanded -- with their personnel going to the replacement pool.
The first TD battalions organized were fully self-propelled. However, combat
experience in North Africa appeared to show that towed guns would be desirable.
As a result, about one-half of the battalions were converted to towed in 1943.
Unfortunately, further experience proved that towed guns were simply too
immobile, making them highly vulnerable. As a result, in 1944 many of the towed
battalions were converted back to self-propelled. On 1 January 1945, a total of
73 battalions were active.
The tank destroyer battalions were all organized with three companies, each
company was equipped with twelve guns, for a total of thirty-six in the
battalion. The early battalions also had an antiaircraft and an engineer
platoon which were later discarded. A strong reconnaissance element was
retained, equivalent to a mechanized cavalry troop.
The TD battalions first employed two stopgap ad hoc weapons, the M3 halftrack,
which mounted an elderly 75mm gun and the M6 TD, a Dodge 3/4 ton Weapons
Carrier with a 37mm AT gun crudely mounted in the truck bed. Later, in North
Africa in 1943, the TD battalions began to receive the first standardized TD
gun, the M10. The M10 was based on a variant of the M4 tank chassis, was
lightly armored, and had poor cross-country mobility and speed. However, its 3"
gun, a development of the prewar AA gun, was quite powerful for the time. By
early 1944 the first purpose-designed TD appeared, the M18, and began to slowly
replace the M10. The M18 was more lightly armored than the M10, but had very
good cross-country mobility and impressive speed. Furthermore, the gun was an
improved 3", known as the 76mm, with a more powerful cartridge case and
muzzle-break, giving it greater accuracy and hitting power. Finally, also in
1944, the M36 was deployed. The M36 utilized the same chassis as the M10, but
mounted the powerful 90mm gun (also originally an AA weapon). The M36 was the
most powerful antitank weapon in the U.S. arsenal, with the newly developed
high-velocity armor piercing rounds (HVAP, also known as APCR for Armor
Piercing Composite Rigid), the 90mm was easily capable of defeating all German
armor, if it could get the first hit.
The seventy-three tank destroyer battalions active and their armament on 1
January 1945 were:
There were fifty-two in the ETO: the 601st (M36, also served in Tunisia,
Sicily, and Italy with M3 and M10), 602nd (M18), 603rd (M18), 607th (M36),
609th (M18), 610th (M36), 612th (M18), 614th Colored (T), 628th (M36), 629th
(M10), 630th (M36), 631st (M10), 634th (M10), 635th (M10), 636th (M10, also
served in Tunisia and Italy), 638th (M18), 643rd (M18), 644th (M10), 645th
(M36, also served in Italy with M10), 654th (M36), 691st (M36), 692nd (T),
701st (M10), 702nd (M36), 703rd (M36), 704th (M18), 705th (M18), 771st (M36),
772nd (T), 773rd (M36), 774th (M36), 776th (M36, also served in Tunisia and
Italy with M10), 801st (T), 802nd (T), 803rd (M36), 807th (T), 808th (M36),
809th (M36), 811th (M18), 813th (M36, also served in Tunisia and Sicily with M3
and M10), 814th (M36), 817th (T), 818th (M36), 820th (T), 821st (M10), 822nd
(T), 823rd (M10), 824th (T), 825th (T), 827th Colored (M18), 893rd (M10), and
899th (M36, also served in Tunisia with M10). Before the end of the war in
Europe eight more battalions converted to SP, the 692nd(M10), 801st (M18),
802nd (M10), 817th (M18), 820th (M18), 822nd (M18), 824th (M18), 825th (M10).
Four were in route to the ETO: the 605th (T, converted to M10 in March)), 648th
(T), 656th (M36), and 661st (M18).
Four were serving in the MTO: the 679th Colored (T), 804th (M10, also served in
Tunisia), 805th (T, also served in Tunisia with M3), and 894th (M10, also
served in Tunisia).
Six were serving in the PTO: the 632nd (M10), 637th (M18), 640th (M10), 671st
(M18), 806th (M10), and 819th (M10).
Seven remained in the US: the 606th (SP, disbanded 28 February), 611th (T,
disbanded 20 February), 627th (SP, in Hawaii, disbanded 10 April), 633rd (M18,
arrived in the ETO 12 April), 652nd (SP), and 670th (SP, in Hawaii, disbanded
10 April), and 816th (T, disbanded 20 February).
Like the mass employment of separate tank battalions, the deployment of the
tank destroyers in mass to defeat enemy armored attacks was never actually
practiced. In the Ardennes Campaign the Third Army employed one TD battalion as
an augmentation to the army's Military Police force. By the end of the war it
was clear that the tank destroyer experiment had no future in the army, on 10
November 1945 the Tank Destroyer Center at Fort Hood Texas was officially
discontinued, ending the existence of the tank destroyer force.
Copyright © 2000 Rich Anderson.
Written by Rich Anderson. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Rich Anderson at:
About the author:
Richard C. Anderson, Jr. works as the Chief Historian at the The
Dupuy Institute (a non-profit organization dedicated to scholarly
research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict
and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides
independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern
Published online: 2000.
Last Modified: 02/11/2007.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.