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Old 09-02-2012, 10:52 PM   #11
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Thanks for the info, I'll check into these books...

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Old 09-05-2012, 03:59 AM   #12
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May I suggest, "Rolling Thunder, against the Rising Sun," by Gene Salecker. A history of American tank action in the Pacific. A lot of combat reports.

Many don't think of tanks when the think of the Pacific battles, but they were there and it was all pretty bloody.

I am not sure what created the dynamics but overall I view the action in the Pacific and the Asian continent as being way more brutal and horrific than the battles in Europe. You either killed them all, or they killed all of you.

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Old 09-05-2012, 12:23 PM   #13
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I am not sure what created the dynamics but overall I view the action in the Pacific and the Asian continent as being way more brutal and horrific than the battles in Europe. You either killed them all, or they killed all of you.
That's true, the Japanese would not surrender, they fought to the death in almost every instance. The conditions there were horrible too, they fought the jungle as much as they fought the Japs. Constant rain, heat, disease. The Japs left their dead to rot so the flies were everywhere not to mention the stench that you couldn't escape. They rarely got any sleep from constant infiltration and harassment by the enemy. It was all inhuman at best. Peleliu became famous for the "thousand yard stare", when those young men came away from there they were ghosts of them former selves, yet they bucked up and fought again. I can't tell you how much I admire them.
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Old 09-05-2012, 05:41 PM   #14
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Speaking of tanks in the Pacific, especially the old M-3 Stuarts, in the jungles a common Japanese tactic in the jungles was to swarm the tanks and try to pry open the hatches with their bayonets or shoot a rifle into the pistol or view ports. The best cure for this was to spin the tank while having a friendly tank near by hose your tank down with it's machine guns, then you would hose his tank down while he spun. This continued until either you ran out of machine gun bullets (which is why tank crews sometimes overloaded with machine gun ammo) and died, or you fled, or a spark or action ignited your gasoline and you burned, or you ran out of targets.

During the British retreat from Burma we sent 300 or so M-3 Stuarts to the Brits. They used them for the rear guard. Their actions were as described above. I believe 33 tanks made it out.

In the book I mentioned there are several eyewitness accounts of such actions, but involving Americans in the Pacific. The surviving crews complained how in the jungle heat a few hours later the tanks stunk, insects came by the thousands and finding a stream where the blood could be washed off the tanks and body parts removed from the track assemblies and the undercarriages became a priority.

The Japanese Army (strangely) entered WW2 without any landmines. Their anti-tank solution was to pick a trail, dig a small tiger pit, put a soldier with a hammer and a 250 pound aircraft bomb inside the pit, cover the hole with a foliage mat and tell the soldier when the tank drives over you hit the bomb fuse with your hammer. This tactic worked on several occasions.

Add to this the Japanese had tanks too. Not very good ones, but more or less a match for the Stuarts.

I have found no accounts of any tank actions as overall brutal as those in Europe or even in the unsuccessful German Operation Barborossa campaign. As stated, add heat, thirst, disease and starvation and logistic issues to the mix.

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Old 09-07-2012, 01:12 AM   #15
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Just finished reading With The Old Breed all I can say is, what a book. What a nightmare those young men went through.

Concerning the tanks used in battle in the Pacific, it sounds like the tank units and the rifleman companies were very interdependent, one protected the other. The tanks were at risk if there were no riflemen around to keep the Japanese soldiers from rushing the tanks with explosive ordnance and the tanks protected the infantry by taking out machine guns, pillboxes etc. Anyway you look at it, it was an uphill battle for all of them against the enemy and the elements.

I'm definitely going to check out the book you suggested, "Rolling Thunder, against the Rising Sun", sounds very interesting.

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Old 09-07-2012, 03:38 AM   #16
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Yes, absolutely. Rolling Thunder and other books speak at length of that communication failure in the Pacific.

One of the things I found most interesting (perhaps because of the distances and filtering by the DC based Senior staff) is that lessons learned in North Africa and Europe were not passed down to units doing battle in the Pacific or Asia.

We see incompetence by MacArthur in the early days before the invasions of the Philippines by Japan when he orders the newly arrived tanks in the Philippines to be parked in a cluster amongst the bombers. Of course the airstrikes on the airfield the next day wipes out planes and tanks (and crews).

We see the M-3 light tank crews in the Philippines not being told by the Army of the discovery in America that the cannons on the tanks will be good for only one single shot only, unless a depot level modification (involved removal of the cannon from the tank) is made to the recoil mechanism. T'was kind of a nasty surprise the first time they tried to shoot again and couldn't. This should have been discovered before the Japanese invasion but when the tanks arrived in the Philippines disassembled and were put together, MacArthur refused repeated requests to allow the tanks to test fire their guns saying, it would upset the natives.

[Footnote: I can't ask him but MacArthur's general strategy in the face of rising tensions and warnings from Hawaii of a Japanese threat appeared to have been based as appearing to be as non-threatening as possible, even to the extent of placing units and potentially needed supplies as far away from where they needed to be as possible.]

We see many unit commanders ordering tanks to take and hold positions without any infantry support whatsoever.

We see infantry calling for tank assistance, then pulling back to let the tanks handle the problem. Lots of tanks over run that way.

We see infantry commanders requesting tanks proceed down roads with bridges that can't support the tanks.

We see tanks taking positions, then leaving because there was no one to follow up and their fuel was running low and the people that sent them on the mission forgot to arrange a re-supply.

The need for infantry support and coordination is realized by the time everyone is bottled up in Corregidor, but somehow never passed on to Pacific Command in Hawaii. When those men surrendered, there went the lessons learned.

Essentially the Army Pacific didn't see the need for infantry support of tanks until sometime towards the end of 43. It is only in early 45 that a senior officer going home on leave learns that in Europe field phones are attached to the tanks so there is a way for infantry to talk to the tanks. Infantry radios in the Pacific were on totally different frequencies and a radio message had to be routed up the chain of command back to the Navy ships landing the force, then resent out on a tank command frequency, then passed down the chain of command. By then it was usually a waste of time and too late. The usual coordination method was for someone riding on the back of the tank to beat on a hatch with his helmet until someone opened up and said, what you want?

There were Army units that independently worked it out for themselves on different islands, but what happened was when the island was secure, the experienced crews and infantry were mostly left there. The Bn would be dissolved and the next island would be a whole new bunch of Ft. Knox crews with new tanks with a new Bn number and fresh infantry men from Benning, each with no perception of a need to coordinate. Often they weren't even placed on the same ships before the invasion so they often had no knowledge of what such and such person is like or how to contact them. The self taught process would happen again, and again the experienced guys would be left in place and fresh new tank battalions would be sent to the next place. Ft. Benning didn't talk to Ft. Knox, and actually almost none of the schools coordinated their training.

Until fairly late in the war Ft. Knox was still bogged down in teaching massive tank assaults of 40 or more tanks against other tanks or fixed forts without infantry support with almost no instruction for what to do when it is just you. Or what to do in tank against infantry scenarios. Likewise Tank training needed to be moved to Panama or Florida but wasn't, if you wanted some semblance of topographical reality. Ft. Polk, LA was probably the best place to at least have a faint idea of what was ahead for Pacific bound tank crews. To bad they didn't do that.

I think perhaps because of a different command structure and a different training emphasis (i.e., smaller unit actions) the Marines had an advantage as they realized the need early on. Working out how to do it was a problem that resulted in blood if the method tried wasn't a good one.

Amazing to me that inter agency rivalries prevented any meaningful exchange of lessons learned between Army and Marines. The result was a lot of needlessly dead Americans.

Reading a couple of books on the subject it seems to me that the US didn't really have a standardized way of incorporating lessons learned from after action reports. In Europe they were read and analyzed and the information passed on to units in training in England, and to units in the field, then sent back to DC. In the Pacific while a Bn level Intel officer occasionally saw one, he wasn't really in the distribution chain. Only the best Commanders saw to it that G-2 saw the AARs. The reports went to the ships, then to the Army base on Hawaii and there they were boxed for eventual shipment stateside and many were never opened and read for the rest of the war. I think the attitude was, who cares what happened on island X, we are planning for island Y. Field commanders were usually unaware of this failure and many had spent much effort into ensuring lessons learned went into the AARs heading back up the chain of command. Yes, some lessons learned were communicated in person to people in places like Ft. Knox and Ft. Benning, but only rarely and even then, nothing flowed back up to chaining command in DC (or if it did, it usually died enroute).

So many difficulties in overcoming the inertia of the systems in place resistant to change. So many Allied lives wasted because of it.

During the N. Africa campaign Aberdeen Proving Ground refused to believe reports that the shells they had designed were ineffective against much German armor. It was only when some officers began arranging (at their personal expense) for the hulks of destroyed or captured German tanks to be shipped back to Aberdeen for experimentation that an improvement in the shells began.

We see the same attitude in the Navy when sub commanders were reporting torpedo failures. A refusal to acknowledge a problem exists.

Again in the Pacific American M-3 light tanks were being tasked with repelling infantry assaults or assaulting infantry positions, but without infantry support. One problem that emerged was the 37mm shell the tanks fired came in Armor Piercing only. There (in the early years) simply were no high explosive shells for those tanks. This meant that a tank facing a fortified field gun had to make a direct hit on the gun itself and even then that usually had no effect on the crews servicing said enemy artillery. Likewise the cannon was basically useless against charging infantry as you had to actually hit someone in a squad to have any effect at all on the attackers and even then you only took out that one person. Told of this problem Aberdeen replied, use your machine gun, and for years refused to design a second shell type for the 37mm cannon of the M-3 and M-5 light tanks.

Interestingly enough, if you like WW2 tanks, the US Army saw very few M-3 Medium tanks in the Pacific. However the US Marines did get them and used them with far fewer problems than the Army had with their light tanks. It seems Army made a decision at the end of the Africa campaign to not use any M-3s in Europe and instead use the new M-4s. Consequently many of the M-3 Mediums either went to the British who used them in India, or they went to Russia, or they went to depots in England, or they were just left in the sand, or the Marines took a few.

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