[lit-ideas] Re: Americans close with the Germans at last

  • From: John Wager <john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 10 May 2008 22:32:33 -0500

Robert Paul wrote:
That these were self-propelled guns might explain the headlong enthusiasm of the American artillerists, but it doesn't explain why they thought they didn't need to wait for anyone to position them. Atkins doesn't exactly knock one's socks off here. It's impossible, given what he says, to know exactly what he's talking about. For all their surface vividness, his words don't really describe anything.

I know more than I should about the war in North Africa in WWII. (Let's just say that when you're supposed to be working on a dissertation, ANYTHING can prove to be an interesting distraction.) Anyway, there were two kinds of 75mm half-track mounted weapons in the American arsenal. One was the short "Pack 75." This was originally meant to be supplied to airborne (paratrooper) units because it was really tiny and could be dropped by regular aircraft. Its barrel was less than 5 feet long, and it only fired high explosive ammunition, not armor piercing. It would have been useless against almost any kind of tank. You will often find these outside American Legion posts in their original configuration, mounted on small wheels; if the piece stands less than 4 feet high, it's probably an old Pack 75.

The other kind of self-propelled half-track 75 mm weapon was called a "tank destroyer," and it mounted a WWI vintage French 75 mm gun (yes "THE French 75). It fired an armor-piercing round, but it was limited in range and its velocity wasn't high enough to really punch through face-hardened German armor. The whole idea of "tank destroyers" in the U.S. Army proved to be a costly one; there were lots of times when flimsy (or unarmored) vehicles went head to head against German tanks, with results that surprised only the Americans. The U.S. Army also had a larger weapon mounted on the same half-track chassis; it was a 105mm howitzer, and it did not have armor piercing shells either. These were really not effective and the Army only tried a few out to see how well they would work; the same weapon on the Sherman hull, the "Priest," was so much better that after the initial engagements the whole project of mounting the 105's on half-tracks was dropped. The 105 shell was heavy enough to sometimes cause some damage to tracks of German tanks, but it didn't pierce armor.

The way to tell the difference is that the 105 howitzer didn't have any kind of shield in front of the weapon, while the "Pack 75" had a small rectangular shield and the French 75 "Tank Destroyer" had a large triangular shaped shield. From a distance it's often difficult to tell these vehicles apart, and I would not automatically trust eye-witnesses who said they saw one or another of these vehicles. The official Army history of the whole Mediterranean campaign has quite excellent small-unit activity summaries day by day, so checking Atkins against that source should be one good way to see what's the likely story.

"Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence and ignorance." -------------------------------------------------
John Wager                john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx
                                  Lisle, IL, USA

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