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Rich Anderson Articles
US Army in WWII

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US Army in World War II
US Army in World War II
Armor and Tank Types

by Rich Anderson

Armor

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 Gun Platoon. 

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 October 1944.

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 Pacific

Tank Types Available

US M4 Sherman 75mm 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 battalion.

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.

Tank Destroyers

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.
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Copyright © 2000 Rich Anderson.

Written by Rich Anderson. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Rich Anderson at:
richto90@msn.com.

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 military campaigns.

Published online: 2000.
Last Modified: 02/11/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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