Friday, January 23, 2015

M4 Sherman Tanks in Manoeuvres in the American Desert

American tank crews bound for North Africa practicing their M4 Sherman for manoeuvres in the California desert, October 1942. Years before the tank forces of USA and Germany met for the first time in North Africa — indeed, years before Germany declared war on the United States — the outcome of the battles at Sidi bou Zid and Kasserine Pass (early 1943) had already been determined. Since the end of World War I, the United States had turned its back on its armed forces, particularly the army. While Germany developed state-of-the-art tanks and theory for using them in battle, the US Army did next to nothing of the sort. Americans by and large were in no frame of mind to have their tax money spent on the military when they had no intention of fighting a European war ever again. By the time Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the United States had only the 17th largest army in the world, with about 190,000 troops. Worse, the US Army was one of the least modernized forces in the world. Army training had ground to a virtual halt in 1934. Army doctrine was mired in World War I thinking, and the materiel was of the same vintage. The army had little or no experience maneuvering or operating at brigade, division, or corps levels. It was scattered all over the United States and its territories, mostly at battalion strength. So, when US Army units finally met the Germans on the North African sand in February 1943, they would do so with weapons and tactics inferior to those of their battle-hardened enemy. The US Army’s main medium battle tank (classified by relative weight) was the M4 Sherman. The Sherman’s main gun was a 70mm cannon, which gave it at least a fighting chance against the German Mark IV tank. On the other hand, the gasoline-burning Sherman tended to catch fire when hit by an enemy shell, hence its rueful nickname among American troops: the Ronson, after a company that manufactured cigarette lighters.


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