[lit-ideas] The 1st Tank battle between Americans and Germans

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas" <Lit-Ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 10 May 2008 08:52:13 -0700

Op. cit., page 202


"Shortly before noon, a sentry using a pair of French naval binoculars
spotted a nimbus of dust several miles downriver.  Waters loped up a hill
and confirmed the approach of what he called 'a beautiful column, preceded
by some pathetic Italian reconnaissance armored vehicles.'  These German
companies, including armor from the 190th Panzer Battalion, were rolling
from Mateur to reinforce Axis troops retreating from Medijez-el-Bab.  No
sooner had Waters begun counting the enemy tanks than rounds came screaming
into St. Joseph's Farm.  Men yanked down the camouflage netting, cranked the
engines of their Stuarts, and heaved their bedrolls to the ground.  The
first tank battle of World war II between German  and American forces had


"To buy time, Waters ordered three 75mm assault guns to occupy an olive
grove along the river road.  Mounted on armored half-tracks, they opened
with a brisk cannonade of thirty rounds at a thousand yards' range: the only
effect was to raise more dust and provoke a retaliatory volley through the
olive branches.  On Waters' order the howitzers hurried back to the farm,
masking their retreat with a few smoke rounds.  The approaching Mk IV Panzer
tanks, Waters soon realized, had a new long-barreled 75mm gun unknown to
Allied intelligence.  The new gun's muzzle velocity of nearly 3,000 feet per
second was twice that of American tank guns and had correspondingly greater
penetrating power.  


"From the ridge southeast of the farm, Major Siglin, in a tank named Iron
Horse, and eleven other Stuarts from Company A now charged down the hill to
the valley floor.  Machine-gun tracer rounds lashed the air in crimson
flails.  The Stuarts' main guns barked and barked.  An Italian armored car
was struck, and lurched to a smoky stop.  


"Then the German panzers answered with a deep roar and a Stuart abruptly
lurched up.  Less than a hundred yards away, Lieutenant Freeland A. Daubin,
Jr., commanding a platoon of three tanks on Company A's right flank, saw
'long searing tongues of orange flame' erupt from every hatch of the
shattered tank and 'silver rivulets of aluminum' puddle beneath the engine
block.  Sparks spouted from the barrel as ammunition began to cook.  Thick
black smoke boiled from the burning rubber tracks and bogey wheels.


"Another Stuart was hit, and another.  They brewed up like the first.
Crewmen tumbled from the hatches, their hair and uniforms brilliant with
flame, and they rolled across the dirt and tore away their jackets in
burning shreds . . . ."


"Wreathed in gray smoke, the panzers closed to within 300 yards.  Siglin's
Iron Horse and the other surviving Stuarts scooted up and back, their
drivers blinded by smoke and dust as they wrestled their gearshifts and
steering levers.  Compared to the German tank guns, the Stuart 37mm 'snapped
like a cap pistol,' a platoon leader observed. . .  Lieutenant Daubin on the
right flank pumped more than eighteen rounds at a single German Mk IV; the
shells simply bounced off the bard plates, which shed 'sparks like a
power-driven grindstone.'  Daubin tap-danced furiously on his driver's
shoulders and shouted instructions to zigzag backward.  At less than fifty
yards, a panzer round struck the forward hatch and the Stuart's front end
buckled like a tin can hit with a hammer.  The blast killed the driver and
blinded the bow gunner.  Bullets cut down the loader as he climbed from the
hatch.  Wounded but alive, Daubin tumbled to the ground and crawled into a
ditch.  His tank continued to roll backward from the battlefield, swallowed
in flames.


"In ten minutes half of Captain Siglin's twelve tanks had been destroyed.
But now Waters sprang the trap for which Company A had been bait.  In their
zeal to attack Signlin's Stuarts, the Germans failed to notice Major Tuck's
Company B hidden behind the ridge just north of the entrance to Chouigui
Pass.  As the Axis formation passed, less than a hundred yards away, Tuck
and his tanks came pounding over the crest of the hill to fall on the enemy
flank and rear.  At point-blank range even the squirrel gun's two-pound
shell could punch through the thin armor on panzer engine doors and docks.
The enemy tried to wheel around but it was too late.  Dozens of American
rounds ripped into the German tanks.  Seven panzers were destroyed,
including a half-dozen of the new Mk IVs.


"The Axis survivors fled down the Tine, pursued by yelling vengeful
Americans.  German infantry and two surviving tanks took refuge in the
walled farm compound that Siglin's company had unsuccessfully attacked the
day before.  This time the Americans forced the gates and rampaged through
the garrison, shooting up the parapets before retreating back outside the
wall.  Other Axis troops were hunted down and killed in the vineyards above
the river.  After dark, the German commander withdrew the remnant of his
force eight miles north to Mateur, where he was sacked and court-martialed
for retreating without orders.  'Our losses,' the German war diary for
November 26 noted, 'were considerable.'


"So, too, were American losses, although Waters had essentially traded tank
for tank.  This first armored battle had ended in a draw.  In the final
Melee at the farm compound, the intrepid Major Siglin had been killed by a
tank round through the turret of Iron Horse.  His body was returned to S.
Joseph's Farm for burial, a stark refutation of the old lie that the weakest
fruit drops to the ground first.  Perhaps the greatest tribute came from the
British Lancers who arrived after the skirmish to find Happy Valley choked
with pillars of black smoke from burning tanks.  'The Americans had done
well,' the Lancers' historian later wrote. 'A gallant effort.'"


Lawrence Helm

San Jacinto

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