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M18 Hellcat

The M18 featured the same M1 76mm gun used by the up-graded Sherman, but Hellcat crews also had the use of effective High Velocity Armor Piercing ammunition with a tungsten carbide core. Over 2,500 M18s had been built when production ceased in late 1944. This 20-ton vehicle had a powerful 400hp engine, which could propel it at speeds in excess of 45mph. With its outstanding power/weight ratio and good gun, the M18 was the most effective US TD of the war, and the GIs loved it.

Germany, February 1945: beside a pile of discarded cardboard ammo packing tubes, a 75mm M8 HMC of an assault gun troop from 106th Cavalry Group lays down fire. Based on the M3/M5 Stuart hull, the open-topped M8 was assigned in small numbers to both recon units and tank unit HQ elements to deliver direct and indirect HE fire. Limited, but well liked, the M8 was replaced in 1945 by a 105mm howitzer Sherman which offered more punch and better protection.

M36 Jackson

Over 1,100 M36s were produced by retrofitting existing M10s with the powerful M3 90mm gun also used on the Pershing tank; interestingly, at 31 tons it weighed less than the M10. The first models reached the Normandy front in July 1944; offering a good chance of destroying Panthers and Tigers even at long range, the M36 finally gave the GIs something like an equal chance against the late model Panzers.

M10 Wolverine of a tank destroyer battalion, fitted with the 'Cullin device' for tearing a way through the massively banked hedgerows of Normandy. Again, note the piled sandbags; the M10's thin armour was no match for the main armament of the Panzers by 1944, and a single layer of sandbags was not going to help. Exposed by their open-top turret, the crew wear M1 steel helmets against the shrapnel of enemy air-bursts.

Tank destroyer doctrine

The shocking success of the German 1940 Blitzkrieg galvanised the US Army into planning a response. Liberally deployed anti-tank guns would theoretically hold enemy tanks in check, and wargames conducted in 1941 seemed to confirm this hypothesis. The doctrine evolved by the Army called for tank destroyer (TD) units to deal with enemy tanks while US tanks were used to support the infantry and serve as an exploitation force. Towed 37mm and 57mm AT guns were assigned to divisions and TD battalions; and the 75mm howitzer was expediently mounted on halftracks to increase mobility until the M10 TD arrived in sufficient numbers to serve as the self-propelled AT weapons platform.

The new TD doctrine was to play a key role in retarding the possible up-grades of the M4 Sherman; this tank was seen by the Ordnance theorists and by many generals as an infantry support and exploitation vehicle rather than a tank-killer. Thus offers by the Ordnance in 1943 to up-gun the M4 to 76mm or 90mm were refused as 'overkill'; up-grading the armour also seemed unnecessary, as the tank was supposed to manoeuvre around enemy tanks or wait for the TDs to deal with the problem.

The TD doctrine also influenced how the Army organised its divisions for combat. The majority of the numbered Tank Battalions and all the TD Battalions were to be independent units assigned at corps level, and deployed as the situation demanded. Infantry divisions had no integral tanks and only a handful of towed AT guns. Armoured divisions alone had integral tank units, as they were by nature break-through formations. Tank and especially TD battalions were usually farmed out within a division by companies or platoons; the TD group and battalion HQs were commonly redundant. The ETO solution was to all but permanently assign independent tank and TD battalions to the infantry divisions.

However well thought out this doctrine may have been, it did not seem to work. TD units were never numerous enough to cover where required, and were commonly undergunned. Their open-top turrets made them vulnerable to field artillery. The M10 and M36 were so thinly armoured that they could not stand in the open or advance and fight; they had to be very carefully handled, using 'bushwhacking' techniques to be most effective. Desperate commanders were forced to use the Sherman (sometimes suicidally mismatched) to stop enemy tank thrusts. Though TD units had been used with limited success in 1943, their reverses had been blamed on faulty deployment and shortages of the new M10. After D-Day the generals finally acknowledged the bankrupt nature of the TD doctrine. This resulted in a belated concentration on the development of new tanks, like the M26 Pershing, serious enough to take on the German Panthers and Tigers.

Near Bitburg, Germany, 1945: GIs from the 4th Armored Division cross the undefended 'dragon's-teeth' of a pacified section of the Siegfried Line. Note the two medics (centre) with unusual helmet markings showing the red cross with only a thin white edge; the radioman with an SCR 300 and accessory pack; and the use of gasmask bags as haversacks (see Plate G2).

The mismatch between German and US tanks is typified by the mid-November 1944 engagement between the US 2nd Armored and German 9th Panzer divisions at Pfuffendorf in Germany. Without air support and with no room to manoeuvre, two battalions of 75mm and 76mm Shermans (100-plus tanks) from the 67th Armd Regt were forced to fight just 20-25 PzKw IVs, Panthers and Tigers in a frontal engagement. To have a chance, the M4s tried to close to bring their guns into effective range. One 76mm Sherman fired 14 rounds into a Tiger before disabling it, and was immediately destroyed by the 88mm gun of another Tiger. The 67th Armor claimed five German tanks destroyed for the day; the timely arrival of the 90mm M36s of the 702nd TD Bn cost the Germans 15 more tanks; but the 67th lost 38 M4s, 19 M5s, and over 350 men in this engagement.


The Normandy landings

During the early morning of D-Day, 6 June 1944, some 2,500 bombers and 600 warships pounded the German 'Atlantic Wall' defences on the coast of Normandy between the Vire and Orne river estuaries (most of the bombardment falling too far inland to be of much value). Operation Overlord, under the supreme command of Gen Dwight Eisenhower, put three British and Canadian divisions ashore on 'Gold', 'Juno' and 'Sword' beaches at the eastern end of the 50-mile stretch, with British 6th Airborne Division dropped by night to secure the flank and bridges inland. The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were night-dropped behind the beaches designated for the US 1st Army (Gen Omar Bradley); despite bad scattering they secured vital road junctions and interdicted enemy reinforcements. To the west, the US 4th Infantry Division landed on 'Utah' beach at the base of the Cotentin peninsula, losing less than 200 men. On 'Omaha', about 11 miles further east, the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions, 2nd and 5th Rangers were stopped cold on the beach, suffering more than 2,000 casualties - 50 to 95 per cent in some assault units. A handful of squads and platoons led by every rank from private to brigadier-general eventually forced their way up the bluffs, attacking German positions from the flanks and rear until the main beach exit points were cleared; and the two savaged divisions lurched forward into Normandy. By nightfall somewhere between 150,000 and 175,000 Allied troops were ashore in France.

Normandy, summer 1944: two medics and a rifleman from the 35th Division examine a dead German. The rifleman (left) has sawn off his E-tool handle for ease of carrying; his 'beer gut' is probably ammo and rations stuffed into his field jacket to save wearing a pack. Note that the kneeling medic has a second red cross brassard attached to his helmet net - a not uncommon sight. The medic partly visible in the background has turned his Parsons jacket inside-out to show the darker wool lining rather than the more visible light duck exterior.

Over the next three days the 2nd Infantry and 2nd Armored Divisions were landed into the slowly expanding bridgehead; soon a new division was landed about every two days. The Cotentin was cut off by 18 June; Cherbourg - a priority objective - fell after a five-day defence on 27 June but the harbour was not fully operational until 7 August.

Operation Cobra

Penned into the narrow bridgehead and taking heavy casualties, the Allies needed to break out of the difficult borage countryside - of small fields bordered by massive hedgerows and sunken lanes — in order to make full use of their superiority in numbers, firepower and mobility. Repealed and costly British and Canadian attempts to take Caen, the eastern anchor of the German defence, did not succeed until 9 July, but did draw the weight of German armoured forces into their sector. To the west the strategic town of St Lô fell to the 29th Infantry Division on 18 July. Operation Cobra, the US break-out assault west of St Lô, was preceded by aerial 'carpet bombing', which obliterated the defending Panzer-Lehr Division (but also killed some 500 US troops of the 30th Infantry Division, and the visiting LtGen McNair). The Americans poured through the breach, seizing Coutances on 28 July and Avranches on the 31st. The US 3rd Army (Gen George Patton), activated on 1 August, swept into Brittany. Hoping to break the neck of the US advance, Hitler ordered his available Panzer forces to attack at Mortain on 6 August. One battalion of the 30th Infantry Division lost about half its men holding Hill 317, but its FOs called down aircraft and corps artillery fires; supported by the 9th and 4th Infantry Divisions, the 30th lost little ground, and the mauled Germans were forced back. Despite this dangerous attack the Allies continued their rapid exploitation attack into France.

Brest, France, July 1944: riflemen from the 2nd Infantry Division during the prolonged street fighting for this port city. Several wear the M1928 pack; the man second from left wears the limited issue two-piece camouflage uniform (see Plate C3).

The battle for France

By mid-August 1944 an opportunity appeared to cut off German forces near Falaise; at first thinking most of the enemy had withdrawn, the Allies were slow to seal off this pocket, but even so Falaise cost the Wehrmacht some 50,000 men and thousands of vehicles and guns. While the British and Canadians advanced along the Channel coast the US 1st and 3rd Armies began to race eastwards across France; the Seine was crossed on 24 August and Paris fell on the 25th. Another 25,000 Germans surrendered near Mons, Belgium, on 3 September; by D+90 days the Allies were occupying objectives that had been planned for D+340. On 11 September, Patton's 3rd Army linked up with Gen Patch's 7th Army advancing from the landings in the south of France on 15 August (Operation Anvil), and a unified Allied front faced the Germans from the Channel to the Mediterranean.

However, the advance now began to sputter to a halt, caused not by German resistance but by over-stretched Allied supply lines from Normandy. The situation got worse when the British received priority of supply to support their attempts on the vital port of Antwerp and the airborne seizure of the lower Rhine (Operation Market Garden - in which ultimately failed gamble both US airborne divisions participated). By the end of October 1944 the 1st Army had captured its first German city, Aachen (21 October), and several toehold breaches were made in the Siegfried Line, the German border defences. In the nearby Hurtgen Forest the US Army allowed three divisions in succession to be ground up by the stubborn defenders. Still begging in vain for sufficient fuel and ammunition supplies, the US armies only slowly consolidated their advance. This autumn pause, called by the Germans the Miracle in the West', gave the enemy time to build and re-equip units for the defence of the Reich.

The Battle of the Bulge

Hitler gambled his reconstituted divisions in an all-out offensive to split the US and British armies apart and seize Antwerp. There was little warning of the Wehrmacht's renewed strength until US forces resting in the thinly-held Ardennes sector found themselves under massive attack on 16 December.

Winter weather grounded the Air Corps, leaving three US divisions to face the onslaught; the green 106th, the 28th (recovering from the Hürtgen battles), and parts of the untried 9th Armored held the line for two days under attack by three German armies. The north (2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions) and south (4th Infantry Division) shoulders of the penetration held firm. The shocked 106th Infantry Division ultimately surrendered two of its three regiments; the 28th, fighting stubborn rearguard actions, found its units scattered. US engineer units plagued German spearheads throughout the battle with blown bridges, which caused major delays in the difficult hill country. A 40-mile breach seemed to open, but the two-day stand allowed the highly mobile US Army to rush units into the 'Bulge'.

The Germans had to capture the road junctions at St Vith and Bastogne. With elements of three divisions. Gen Clarke (CCB, 7th Armored Division) held St Vith until 20 December, completely disrupting the German timetable in the northern Ardennes. When it fell, outflanked by the crack Führer Begleit Brigade, the 7th and nearby 9th Armored Division combat commands managed to break out to fight another day. Bastogne was held by the 101st Airborne and elements of three other divisions. The deepest enemy penetrations, by 1st SS Panzer and 2nd Panzer divisions, were both stopped cold short of the River Meuse. By the end of December encircled Bastogne had been relieved by Patton's 4th Armored Division, and the clearing skies were full of Allied aircraft. Though the German offensive had severely shocked the Allies, Hitler had expended his last reserves for nothing.

Hürtgen Forest, October/November 1944: a BAR team from the 4th Division struggle through the muddy pine woods. During weeks of murderous fighting GIs from the 4th, 8th and 28th Divisions were among those who paid very dearly for the 1st Army's slow advance.

The battle for Germany

Spring 1945 saw the US armies careering into the heartland of Germany. In late March the Rhine was jumped at several locations and the 9th Armored Division seized an intact bridge at Remagen. Rapid advances were punctuated by many bitter local battles, however, as US columns encountered blocking positions held with fanatical determination by ad hoc German battle groups - always a strength of the German forces: a few tanks and Flak guns, the scraped-together remnants of retreating units, the staffs of officer and NCO training schools, banding together under some junior commander to sell their lives dearly. Nevertheless, by 18 April nearly 400,000 enemy troops were cut off and forced to capitulate in the Ruhr valley, the bombed-out industrial heart of Germany. While fighting doggedly against the vengeful Red Army advancing from the east, most Wehrmacht troops were now happy to surrender to the Western Allies.

By VE-Day the US had 60 divisions operational in the ETO; they were advancing into Austria and Czechoslovakia, and in Germany they were a day's march from Berlin. On 2 May, American, British and Russian troops linked up at Lübeck on the Baltic. On the 7th, the unconditional surrender of Germany from midnight on 8 May 1945 was signed at Cien Eisenhower's HQ at Rheims.

Going home

The GI of World War II has accurately been described as the 'citizen soldier'; and when the war ended he couldn't wait to get home. Conscious of the US Army's unhappy experience with delays in sending the 'doughboys' of 1918 back to the States, the authorities took surveys among the GIs as to the fairest way to handle the problem. A point system was devised to award the longer-serving veterans higher scores which would enable them to go home first: five points for each campaign star, one for every six months in service, one for every six months overseas, five for each wound, five for each decoration, and twelve points for each child (to a maximum of three). The total points required for release started at 85, but by December 1945 only 50 were needed.

After VE-Day priority was given to transferring the newer ETO divisions to the Pacific to continue the war. As VJ-Day in August 1945 caught the Army in mid-transit, many GIs with minimal service found themselves in the US and were discharged. High-point veterans in the ETO were soon first on the list homeward, but it all seemed to the GIs to take entirely too much time. The US Army demobilised at a rapid rate, however, and by 1946 the wartime force of 8.3 million was down to 2 million.


Note: The following divisions which served in both Italy and NW Europe are covered on page 39 of MAA 347, The US Army in World War II (2). The Mediterranean: 1st, 3rd, 9th, 36th & 45th Infantry, 82nd Airborne.

2nd Armored Division ('Hell on Wheels'), N.Africa, Sicily, Normandy, France, Ardennes, Germany. All armored divisions wore the Armored Force triangular patch divided yellow (top), blue (left) and red, with black tracks-and-lightning motif below divisional numeral.

3rd Armored Division 'Spearhead'). Normandy. France. Ardennes, Germany.

4th Armored Division ('Breakthrough'). Normandy. France, Ardennes. Germany.

5th Armored Division ('Victory') Normandy, France. Germany.

6th Armored Division ('Super Sixth'). Normandy, France Ardennes, Germany.

7th Armored Division ('Lucky Seventh'). Normandy. France, Ardennes, Germany.

8th Armored Division ('Thundering Herd). France, Ardennes, Germany.

9th Armored Division ('Phantom'). Ardennes. Germany, Czechoslovakian border.

10th Armored Division ('Tiger') France. Ardennes, Germany.

11th Armored Division ('Thunderbolt'). France, Ardennes. Germany.

12th Armored Division ('Hellcat'). Germany.

13th Armored Division ('Black Cat'). Ardennes, Germany.

14th Armored Division ('Liberator'). France, Germany.

16th Armored Division Germany.

20th Armored Division Germany.

2nd Infantry Division ('Indian Head'). Normandy. France, Ardennes. Leipzig (Germany). Full-colour Indian's head in blue warbonnet on white star on black shield.

4th Infantry Division ('Ivy'). Normandy, France. Bastogne (Ardennes), Germany. Four conjoined green ivy leaves on khaki diamond.

5th Infantry Division ('Red Diamond'). Normandy, Metz (Fiance). Ardennes. Mainz-Worms Bridgehead (Germany). Red diamond.

8th Infantry Division ('Pathfinder'). Normandy, Brittany, France, Ardennes. Cologne (Germany). Yellow arrow through white 8 on blue shield.

17th Airborne Division ('Golden Talon'). Ardennes, Rhine crossing, Germany. Yellow eagle's talon on black disc edged khaki, below yellow-on-black 'Airborne' tab.

26th Infantry Division ('Yankee'). France. Ardennes, Siegried Line (Germany). Dark blue 'YD' monogram on khaki diamond.

28th Infantry Division ('Keystone'). Normandy. Colmar Pocket (France), Hürtgen Forest. Ardennes. Germany. Red keystone shape.

29th Infantry Division ('Blue & Grey'). Normandy. France. Siegfried Line, Aachen (Germany). Dark blue/grey 'yin & yang'.

30th Infantry Division ('Old Hickory'). Normandy, France, Ardennes, Germany. Blue 'H' and 'XXX' on red oval edged blue.

35th Infantry Division ('Santa Fe'). Normandy. Metz. Nancy (France). Ardennes, Ruhr (Germany). White crosses and circle on dark blue disc.

42nd Infantry Division ('Rainbow'). Schweinfurt. Munich, Dachau (Germany). Quadrant of red, yellow, blue rainbow.

44th Infantry Division ('Two Fours'). Saar, Ulm (Germany), Danube River. Blue opposed 4s on yellow disc edged blue.

63rd Infantry Division ('Blood & Fire'). Bavaria (Germany). Danube River. Yellow bayonet, red flames and blood, on khaki teardrop.

65th Infantry Division ('Battle Axe'). Saarlautern, Regensburg (Germany), Danube River. White halberd on blue shield.

66th Infantry Division ('Black Panther'). Lorient, St Nazaire (France). Germany. Black panther head, red & white details, on orange disc edged red.

69th Infantry Division ('Fighting 69th') Germany. Interlocked, stylised red '6' & blue '9' edged white.

70th Infantry Division ('Trailblazer'). Saarbrücken, Moselle River (Germany). White axehead & mountain, green trees, on red background.

71st Infantry Division ('Red Circle'). Hartz Mountains (Germany). Blue stylised '71' on white disc edged red.

75th Infantry Division Ardennes. Westphalia (Germany). Blue '7' & red '5' on red\white\blue shield.

76th Infantry Division ('Onaway'). Luxembourg, Germany. White heraldic label on blue over red shield, narrow green divider.

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