July 5, 2014

The Cushman Report: Tank-Destroyers vs Panzers in North Afrika

The fall of France in 1940 influenced decisively U.S. Army’s anti-tank doctrine. The reports from Europe were talking about thousands of enemy tanks advancing relentlessly. It was considered that organic anti-tank weapons in the infantry divisions were not sufficient to meet the threat and independent anti-tank battalions were established. According to the doctrine that was developed, the independent anti-tank units should be kept in reserve at Army or Corps level. When the enemy tank force was located the anti-tank units would occupy suitable positions to ambush it. During the fight with the tanks the anti-tank units would not remain static, but they would aggressively maneuver, using terrain in their advantage, and destroy them. On 7 October 1941 the anti-tank battalions were renamed as tank destroyer battalions, which was more in conformity with the offensive spirit that prevailed in the new, semi-independent, tank destroyer branch. 


Tank-Destroyer Battalions training


The Tank-Destroyer (TD) Battalion

The TD battalions that reached North Africa in 1942 were composed of three self-propelled TD companies and a reconnaissance company. In each TD company one platoon was equipped with the 37mm M6 Gun Motor Carriage (GMC) and the other two with the 75mm M3 GMC. Both systems were considered expedient weapons, offered minimal or non armor protection and had poor penetration capabilities.

Tank Destroyer Battalion, 1942
1. Tank Destroyer Battalion, 1942.

The Cushman Report

From the initial landings in North Africa, December 1942, until mid-February 1943 only two TD Battalions supported the American troops. Later on they were joined by five others.

Major Allerton Cushman, originally of the French Army, acted as an observer for the Tank Destroyer Center and the Hq Army Ground Forces (AGF) during the North African Campaign, and accompanied TD units from the start. In March 29, 1943 he filed a very interesting report about the performance of the TD units. The report is divided in two sections. In the first section he makes some general comments about training and morale. In the second section he deals with German and American tactics and makes some comments and suggestions about the organization and equipment of the TD battalions.

German Tactics
An 88 gun, towed behind an Sd.Kfz. 6/1
2. An 88 gun, towed behind 
an Sd.Kfz. 6/1, in North Africa.

“To understand our procedures in this theater, it is necessary to outline those of the enemy. His most publicized antitank weapon is the 88mm, but the 50mm and a newly-developed 75mm towed gun were also in evidence. The enemy habitually maneuvered his armor within a protective cordon of antitank weapons. Our forces had invariably to anticipate antitank guns before closing with German tanks.

            a.         Offense. In those actions witnessed by this observer, the Germans placed their 88's into position quickly enough to give immediate support to their armor. The 88mm has been mounted in the PzKw VI, their 56-ton heavy tank.

            b.         Defense. Whenever sufficient time is available to organize a strong point, enemy antitank gun positions are progressively employed end organized in depth.

                        (1)        Core of the defense in these strong points is the 88mm gun. Immediately adjacent to the gun positions are dug elaborate slit trenches, occupied until the time for manning that piece. In one instance, in the OUSSELTIA VALLEY, about 100 infantrymen protected 88mm positions. Flanking these positions were 20mm machine guns, and the whole area was supported by tanks, which, had the mission of protecting flanks and rear

                        (2)        The enemy has introduced a new towed 75mm gun with a 3,250 f/sec muzzle velocity, using tungsten carbide Pak 40 ammunition”.

American Tactics

I failed to observe any defects in our tactics as outlined in available training literature. The difficulty lay in failure to follow these precepts.
75mm-GMC M3
3. 75mm-GMC M3.

            a.         Offense. Armored Force Artillery operated in the conventional FA manner; most firing was carried out at ranges of 6,000 - 7,000 yards, with fire direct center methods. Tank destroyers assigned the role of direct support artillery moved 500 to 1,000 yards behind the tanks, firing HE at the emplaced A/T guns. This I consider a misuse of destroyers since it eliminates the possibility of using them as a mobile reserve to meet armored counterattack, and because the M1897 75mm gun has too flat a trajectory for gaining maximum effect against targets of this type.


105mm- Howitzer Motor Carriage
4. 105mm- Howitzer Motor Carriage.

                        (1)       There is definite need for a high angle fire weapons to neutralize the German A/T gun by direct fire methods. The ideal weapon for this task is the self-propelled 105mm howitzer and M7 carriage, now standard equipment for armored artillery. Its armor affords good protection from small-arms fire and shell fragments; its cross-country mobility is equal, if not superior, to that of the new M10 destroyer. For armored artillery, operating 5,000 or more yards from the front lines, it would seem that mounting the 105mm on the M3 half track would appear entirely adequate. This would have additional advantages over the M7 of (a) higher road speeds, (b) lower fuel consumption, and (c) less need for maintenance.

M-7 Priest 105mm Self-Propelled Howitzer
5. M-7 Priest 105mm
Self-Propelled Howitzer

                        (2)        It is recommended that one platoon of the tank destroyer company be equipped with four 105mm howitzers on the M7 carriage, having the primary mission of engaging enemy A/T guns by direct fire. This heavy platoon would maneuver 500 to 1,000 yards behind the other two light platoons (each equipped with four 3-inch guns on M10 carriage) end thus give them direct and immediate support as soon as -they drew fire from enemy A/T defenses. This would eliminate any need for the security vehicles now included in this platoon, and for the two A/A vehicles as well. The M7 is equipped with a .50-cal. MG capable of firing against either air or ground targets.

                        (3)       Study of the organization of the German 501st Panzer Abteilung shows the need for a high-angle, direct-fire weapon to engage enemy A/T guns. This enemy battalion included the new heavy tank, really a super tank destroyer, (its 88mm gun certainly has not the primary mission of attacking our infantry, artillery or rear area installations). According to G-2 sources in North Africa,, each of the two companies of this battalion is organized as follows:

                                      1 Hq. Platoon  (1 PzKwVI, 1 PzKwIII)
                                     4 Tank Platoons, each (2 PzKwVI, 2 PzKwIII)

Pzkpfw III Ausf.N
6. A Pzkpfw III Ausf.N armed with the short-barreled 75mm gun in Tunis.

The PzKwIII are armed with short-barrel 75mm cannon instead of the normal 50mm gun. This cannon has a muzzle velocity of only 1,600 f/sec and cannot, therefore, be considered a weapon for engaging our medium tanks. Mk III tanks appear to have the mission of protecting the Mark VI from being attacked by our A/T weapons employing HE.

            b.         Defense. Our forces have not the necessary weapons required for setting up a static A/T defense, one based in depth upon a series of strong points. The gun for this role must be a towed gun capable of being dug in and completely concealed until actually needed. It must be powerful enough to stop any tank with one shot at 1,000 yards, and be manned by a highly trained crew which will stick at its post even if surrounded by enemy tanks.

                        (1)        It has been suggested that organic infantry A/T guns might do this work, especially if the impotent 37mm were replaced by the 57mm. I believe, however, that the A/T gun should be larger than 57mm, thus rendering it difficult for the infantry to employ. Furthermore, better results could be obtained by a unit specially selected and trained as antitank soldiers.
3’’ M-5 Towed Anti-tank Gun
7. 3’’ M-5 Towed Anti-tank Gun.

                        (2)        After witnessing the large scale German attack, which decisively defeated our forces in Southern Tunis, I believe that the 3-inch towed gun will be suitable for North African operations. This will be true, however, only if it is employed in addition to, and not as a substitute for, our present tank destroyer battalions. The Germans attacking at SBEITLA were opposed by a force of destroyers aggregating less than a full-strength company. I am confident the advance would have been slowed down if we had had a defense in depth containing well-organized strong points, particularly if these had been located in such narrow defiles as FAID and KASSERINE.

Reconnaissance Company

Captain Micheal Paulick, Commanding Reconnaissance Company, 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion, commented as follows:

            1.         "Armament was inadequate and too short in range, although consisting of six 37mm guns, mounted on half tracks M2 (instead of a caliber .50 MG called for in T/O 6842). This company encountered 75mm and 88mm guns outranging them at every turn. During one engagement with the German Mk IV tank, equipped with a long-barrel 75mm, one 37mm gun hit the enemy tank five times at a 1,000 yard range without causing any interruption in enemy fire. Reconnaissance by German Panzer units is usually made with Mk III and Mk IV tanks, and their outpost lines consist of strong points organized with 75mm guns on tanks and 88mm guns, either towed or mounted on the Mark VI tank. Our present fire power could not penetrate this screen."

            2.         "It is recommended that the armored reconnaissance vehicles be equipped with a gun of not less than 57mm, and that there be a self-propelled assault gun in each platoon headquarters to aid the forward movement of reconnaissance elements, or to aid in the disengagement of these elements during a fire fight. Element of the assault gun would be similar to that of reconnaissance units of an armored reconnaissance company.”

            3.         "According to our present T/O, the platoon leader commands one section and the platoon sergeant the other. There is no provision for the leader to exercise centralized control over both sections from a platoon headquarters, which has proven a great weakness in organization."


37mm-GMC M6
8. A 37mm-GMC M6 during maneuvers at Tennessee. 



Epilogue

After the North African Campaign the TD battalions underwent various organizational and equipment changes. They certainly offered their part in the victory of the Allied arms. But they didn’t survive the war. They were created as an expedient measure under the shock of the French defeat. When U.S. troops entered the ETO the Germans were not on the offensive any more. The question in Normandy or in the West Well was not how to deal with masses of enemy tanks, but how to dislodge a stubbornly defending enemy. On the other hand, it turned out that the Germans were operating in combined arms kampfgruppen and not in all-tank masses. The tank-destroyers, as an over specialized weapon, lost their value and disappeared.  


M10 Tank Destroyer
9. The M10 Tank Destroyer. Although it was introduced as an 
“expedient” weapon, it formed the backbone of the TD battalions.


Bibliography
Cushman, Allerton, Maj. (Army Ground Forces) Observer Report. 29 March 1943, Combined Arms Research Library (CARL)
Gabel, Christopher R. Seek, Strike, and Destroy: U.S. Army Tank Destroyer Doctrine in World War II. Leavenworth Paper no. 12.  Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1985.
U.S. War department. FM 18-5. Tank Destroyer Field Manual – Organization and Tactics of Tank Destroyer Units. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1942.


Photos attribution
1. author
2. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-783-0109-19/Dörner/CC-BY-SA-3.0-de, via Wikimedia Commons
3. U.S. Army photograph, via Wikimedia Commons
4., 5., 8., 9. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Library_of_Congress?uselang=el
6. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-788-0017-20/Dullin/CC-BY-SA-3.0-de, via Wikimedia Commons
7. Chitrapa at en.wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons


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