319.1/48 (Foreign Obsrs) (S) GNGBI. (3-29-43)
SUBJECT: Observer Report.
E.S. Johnson, Col Infantry / Observator
TO : By Auth Commanding General, Army Ground Forces / Date 3/29/43
Commanding Generals: V Army; Second Army; Third Army; III Corps; IV Corps; VII Corps; VIII Corps; IX Corps; X Corps; XIXI Corps; II Corps; XIII Corps; XV Corps; II Armored Corps; III Armored Corps; IV Armored Corps; Airborne Command; Amphibious Training Center; Antiaircraft Command; Desert Training Center; Mountain Training Center; Replacement and School Command; Tank Destroyer Center; Chief of the Armored Force.
(1) : The enclosed preliminary briefed report of Maj Allerton Cusham, FA observer from the Tank Destroyer Center and Headquarters Army Ground Forces to Northwest Africa for the period December 19, 1942, to March 1, 1943, is furnished herewith. (2) : Distribution to divisions has been discontinued by the Commanding General, Army Ground Forces. Reproduction and distribution of observers’ reports to subordinate units is not authorized. (3) : The data and recommendations contained in this report represent the views of the individual observer and are furnished for information only. (4) : Changes in training doctrine as enunciated in War Department publications, which are necessary because of the information contained in observers’ reports, will be published by the War Department. Changes in training directives of this headquarters, which are necessary because of information in observers’ reports, will be promulgated by this headquarters.
The German Army makes war better than we are now making it. Unless this is realized and unless steps are taken to improve the quality of our fighting forces, we are bound to suffer defeat when meeting it on anything like equal terms.
(a) Morale. With notable exceptions, the prevailing attitude is that the North African operations are just another maneuver with live ammunition. The enemy is regarded as the visiting team and this not a major game. Even units suffering heavy casualties did not evince hatred of the enemy; there has been no recognizable effort by the high command to evoke a fighting spirit. There was a general tendency to underrate the enemy in stories of his impending evacuation of North Africa, stories circulated by wishful thinking. In two months’ experience at the front, I never heard a German atrocity story. Though they used such tricks as dressing in our uniform to shoot soldiers in American half-tracks and set numerous booby traps, all this was accepted as smart ball, things that we will soon be doing ourselves.
When the 70th Tank Battalion re-occupied an area in which one of its tanks had been lost several weeks before, it found a mound of fresh earth, surmounted by a cross bearing the inscription (Here lie the bodies of three brave American Panzer soldiers).
Being essentially decent and very naive, our soldiers fall for this. No one tells them differently. The German has purposely played clean, and we have not yet been made. To the average soldier, North Africa and especially Tunisia is just a strange place that he would like to get the Hell out of, so why not Mount up and ride away, and live to fight another day? Both officers and men are psychologically unprepared for war. All ranks are not yet imbued with the spirit that makes them willing to die rather than fail in any assigned mission. We cannot consider ourselves a first-class army until all echelons make a conscientious and determined effort to instill just such a spirit in every officer and man. This can best be done just after relief from front-line duty. Errors are then fresh in everyone’s memory but can be regarded objectively. Commanders can then transform their unit from raw troops into aggressive, seasoned soldiers. Most units I observed had not yet had a satisfactory rest period.
(b) Training. I feel it impossible to train troops adequately for combat in eight months, especially such highly complicated branches as tank destroyers or armored units. In the confusion of combat, when instinct rather than reason governs, insufficient training is most noticeable. Failure to employ artillery material (machine guns and small arms) to make enemy tanks use smoke shells or other smoke sources are pertinent examples. If not lengthened, training must be intensified, stressing battle methods, and field operations.
Gen Benjamin Lear’s remark, the more you sweat, the less will be your tears, carries more weight than fifty field manuals.
It is recommended that both officers and NCOs with command experience in combat be returned to this country and continues to add their experience to the training of troops here.
Our national aversion to propaganda, especially if not well planned, should be recognized, however. Any system for returning experienced personnel to America should include expert briefing regarding their duties in the psychological preparation for combat.
2. Tank Destroyers
In the period from Dec 19, 1942, to Feb 22, 1943, no tank destroyer battalion had been employed as such in North Africa. All had been split into companies, platoon, and even sections, in conformity with the then-standard procedure for all other arms. It is felt that this not only hampered supply, maintenance, and administration but also prevented effective teamwork and close knowledge of the working procedure of those units to which the tank destroyers were attached.
Units observed were the 701st, 805th, 894th, and 601st Tank Destroyer Battalions; I accompanied the latter organization through the Ousseltia Valley, Sbeitla and Kasserine engagements. None of these units were equipped with the M-10 tank destroyer.
To understand our procedures in this theater, it is necessary to outline those of the enemy. His most publicized antitank weapon is the 88-MM, but the 50-MM and a newly-developed 75-MM 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) Offensive 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 88-MM has been mounted in the PzKw VI (Tiger 1), their 56 tons heavy tank.
(b) Defense Whenever sufficient time is available to organize a strong point, the enemy AT gun positions are progressively employed and organized in-depth. (1) The core of the defense in these strong points is the 88-MM gun. Immediately adjacent to the gun positions are dug elaborate slit trenches, occupied until the time for manning that piece. In one instance (Ousseltia Valley), about 100 infantrymen protected 88-MM positions. Flanking these positions were 20-MM machine guns, and the whole area was supported by tanks, which, judging by their weak had the mission to protecting flanks and rear.
4. American Tactics.
(1) I failed to observe any defects in our tactics as outlined in available training literature. The difficulty lay in the failure to follow these precepts. (a.) Offensive. Armored Force Artillery operated in the conventional Field Artillery manner; most firings were carried out at ranges of 6000-7000 yards, with fire direct center methods. Tank destroyers assigned the role of direct support artillery moved 500 to 1000 yards behind the tanks, firing HE at the emplaced AT guns. This I consider a misuse of destroyers since it eliminates the possibility of using them as a mobile reserve to meet armored counter-attacks, and because the M-1897 75-MM gun has too flat a trajectory for gaining maximum effect against targets of this type.
(2) There is a definite need for high angle fire weapons to neutralize the German AT gun by direct fire methods. The ideal weapon for this task is the self-propelled 105-MM howitzer and M-7 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 M-10 destroyer. For armored artillery, operating 5000 or more yards from the front lines, it would seem that mounting the 105-MM on the M-3 half-track would appear entirely adequate. This would have additional advantages over the M-7 carriage of (a) higher road speeds; (b) lower fuel consumption; (c) less need for maintenance.
(3) It is recommended that one platoon of the tank destroyer company be equipped with four 105-MM howitzers on the M-7 carriage, having the primary mission of engaging enemy AT guns by direct fire. This heavy platoon would maneuver 500 to 1000 yards behind the other two light platoons (each equipped with four 3-inches (76.2-MM) guns on M-10 carriage) end thus give them direct and immediate support as soon as they drew fire from enemy AT defenses. This would eliminate any need for the security vehicles now included in this platoon, and for the two AA vehicles as well. The M-7 is equipped with a .50 caliber heavy Browning Machine Gun capable of firing against either car or ground targets.
(4) Study of the organization of the German 501.Panzer-Abteilung shows the need for a high-angle, direct-fire weapon to engage enemy AT guns. This enemy battalion included the new heavy tank, really a super tank destroyer, (its 88-MM 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. Plat., (1 Panzer VI) and (1 Panzer III); 1.Panzer-Platoon, (2 Panzer VI) and (2 Panzer III); 1.Panzer-Platoon, (2 Panzer VI) and (2 Panzer III); 1.Panzer-Platon, (2 Panzer VI) and (2 Panzer III) and 1.Panzer-Platoon, (2 Panzer VI) and (2 Panzer III).
The Panzer III are armed with short-barrel 75-MM cannon instead of the normal 50-MM gun. This cannon has a muzzle velocity of only 1600/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 Panzer VI from being attacked by ours. AT weapons employing HE.
Our forces have not the necessary weapons required for setting up a static AT 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 1000 yards and be manned by a highly trained crew that will stick at its post even if surrounded by enemy tanks.
(1) It has been suggested that organic infantry AT guns might do this work, especially if the impotent 37-MM were replaced by the 57-MM. I believe, however, that the AT gun should be larger than 57-MM, 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.
(2) After witnessing the large scale German attack, which decisively defeated our forces in Southern Tunis, I believe that the 3-inches (76.2-MM) 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.
(3) Tank Destroyer Organization and Equipment.
(a) Indirect Firing. It has frequently been necessary in North Africa to use tank destroyers as support artillery, with indirect fire methods. Recognizing this error, higher headquarters have taken steps to correct it. It seems certain, however, that contingencies will again arise where tank destroyers must employ, massed fires, such as exist when deep mud prohibits cross-country maneuver at opposed river crossings or in strongly defended passes. Consequently, it is recommended that each tank destroyer platoon be equipped with an aiming circle or another instrument capable of laying all four destroyers for direction. It is understood that destroyers will, henceforth, be furnished panoramic sights and gunners quadrants as standard equipment.
All tank destroyer personnel should be taught elementary artillery technique, including use of forward observation methods. Any situation experienced in the Tunisian fight thus far is covered by the procedure set forth in Armored Force Field Manual 1 7-12.
(b) Observation Posts. The need for long-range observation to provide adequate warning of enemy mechanized movements was everywhere evident, Inadequate equipment severely curtained the effectiveness of those OP’s which were established. The following equipment is recommended: (1) BC scope; (2) Aiming circle; (3) Plane table with carrying case; (4) 2 pair field glasses, M3, and (5) 2 EE telephones. As a minimum, one set of such equipment should be provided for the company. No additional personnel is needed, but the 1st Sergeant, reconnaissance sergeant, and reconnaissance corporals should be trained in observation post technique.
(c) Radio. Radio communication has been most unreliable. The SCR-508 has been particularly untrustworthy at all except the shortest ranges. To provide adequate communication to gun companies and the reconnaissance company, it is recommended that the SCR-193, or its equivalent, the SCR-606, be employed. In the battalion command net, the effectiveness of the reconnaissance company has often been entirely neutralized, unless the SCR-193 was provided for each, reconnaissance platoon.
(1) Armament was inadequate and too short in range, although consisting of six 37-MM guns, mounted on half-tracks M-2 (instead of a caliber .50 MG called for in T/O 6842). This company encountered 75-MM and 88-MM guns outranking them at every turn. During one engagement with the German Mk IV tank, equipped with a long-barrel 75-MM, one 37-MM gun hit the enemy tank five times at a 1000 yard range without causing any interruption in enemy fire.
Recon by German Panzer units is usually made with Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks, and their outpost lines consist of strong points organized with 75-MM guns on tanks and 88-MM guns, either towed or mounted on the Panzer VI Tiger tank. Our present firepower could not penetrate this screen.
(2) It is recommended that the armored reconnaissance vehicles be equipped with a gun of not less than 57-MM 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 firefight. Employment 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 the organization.
Lt R.K. von Nostrand
Recon Company, 13th Armored Regiment
stated that the 75-MM howitzer on half-track mounted has definitely proved its worth. The Germans have recently mounted a 75-MM short-barrel cannon on their eight-wheeled armored car.
(e) Headquarters Company. Since the advance echelon (CP Group) of the headquarters company is often separated from the rear echelon by 50 miles or more, it is essential that this advance echelon be furnished with messing equipment. It does not appear necessary to have the present headquarters company reorganized into a smaller headquarters company and a separate service company.