Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Last Offensive, Day One

US Army Signal Corps Photo

"Good to see you again Brad!" Cpt. Stephen Hernandez said as he reached up to shake 2nd Lt. Brad Woodstock's hand. Woodstock was sitting in the turret of his new tank, in fact his entire platoon had been re-equipped with the 76mm gunned M4A3 (76) W HVSS version of the venerable Sherman. (Also known as the M4A3E8, or Easy Eight.)

"Great to see you too Sir!"

"Hey, it's Stephen okay? Not Sir. I see your entire platoon got new rides! No Pershings?"

"Ain't enough to go around I guess, these Easy Eights are pretty nice. I wish we'd had them earlier in the war, some of my buddies might still be around."

"So you went with a new name for the tank?"

"Yeah, I loved the name Catamount, but Big Cat fits this one better. Only Doug Harrell kept the old tank's name, he went with Misfit III. He's not real imaginative I guess."

Hernandez checked his watch, "We're moving out in 30 minutes. We're on foot so I'll have two platoons right behind you. It's 1st Platoon's turn to be on point, Nathaniel ain't happy about it, but it's his turn."

"Sounds like a plan, we're ready to roll." Woodstock threw a salute at Hernandez and said, "See you on the other side!"

(Source)

Sgt. Hugo Westfield in his tank "Bad Boys" was leading the platoon on the left flank of the echelon right formation. When he saw Gonzales' infantry go to ground, he knew something was up. When the phone on the back of the tank buzzed, he picked up.

"Yeah, what's up? I can't see..."

At that moment the turret rang like a church bell as an anti-tank round from a German scout car glanced off the side.

"Jesus Sarge, that was no 50mm!" gunner Cpl. Bert Meyers yelled out. Then pressing his face back to the sight, he yelled again, "I got him!" He then stomped on the cannon's floor trigger and screamed,  "On the way!"

The 76mm cannon barked and some 600 yards away a German SdKfz 234/4 blew apart.

At the rear of the tank, 1st Platoon's platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Jeff Kilcannon, yelled into the phone, "Okay, you got one! There's another one about 50 yards to the left!"

Before "Bad Boys" could engage again, Sgt. Brad Winkler's "Big Boozer" had destroyed the second armored car, this one a SdKfz 234/3 with the short barreled 75mm cannon.

While the tanks were destroying the light armor opposing Charlie Company's advance, 1st Lt. Gonzales was calling in artillery. Within moments, American artillery rounds came whistling overhead and began impacting in the small woodlot where an ad hoc company of NCO training school instructors and students had dug in.

Very few prisoners were taken.

Hernandez had told his men, "Take no chances, if it's armed, kill it. If it's running away, kill it. The only ones I'll spare are those with their hands in the air the moment we show up. If they wanna shoot first, then try to quit, cut 'em down. We're all going home boys, take no chances."

Charlie Company reaped a grim harvest that day.

The Third Reich has three days to live...


The 5th of May 1945

Third U.S. Army’s commander General George S. Patton Jr. had been clamoring for permission to drive eastward with the intention of liberating western Czechoslovakia from Nazi control.   In the early evening of 4 May 1945, he finally got the approval from Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower for an advance to the line running Karlovy Vary – Plzen – Ceske Budejovice.  He was also to be prepared to advance further east upon orders from Eisenhower.   To bolster his offensive, V Corps of First U.S. Army was transferred to Third Army that same day.  Third Army now had four corps totaling over 540,000 soldiers with which to advance simultaneously east into western Czechoslovakia and south-east into Austria.

On the morning of 5 May, Patton’s XII Corps and V Corps attacked eastward with their infantry divisions to open up routes for the armored divisions to follow.    Combat Command A (CCA) of the 9th Armored Division was attached to the 1st Infantry Division for a drive east from the vicinity of Cheb with Karlovy Vary being the objective.  The remainder of the 9th Armored Division was kept in reserve.  The 1st Infantry Division advanced up to 14 kilometers on a front 48 kilometers wide and experienced some of the heaviest fighting of the liberation in the mountainous areas around Cheb.  1st and 2nd Battalions of the 18th Infantry Regiment were able to reach their objectives but 3rd Battalion encountered more determined resistance which delayed them from attaining their objectives until the early hours of 6 May.  Numerous well defended road blocks were encountered and overcome.  B Company, 745th Tank Battalion and soldiers of the 18th Infantry struck and overcame a determined group of Germans who were entrenched on the high ground north of Drenice.  Nevertheless, casualties for the regiment that day were surprisingly light:  1 officer and 23 enlisted men wounded.  The 7th Field Artillery Battalion fired just one mission that day, expending 23 rounds on a group of enemy soldiers late in the afternoon.  Since German artillery fire was negligible, the 17th Field Artillery Observation Battalion was used for rear area security and to transport captured Germans to prisoner of war enclosures.

That day, 3rd Platoon, B Company, 634th Tank Destroyer Battalion and 3rd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment ran into strong German resistance.   At a range between fifty and one hundred yards, the platoon’s M10 tank destroyers fired off all of their 3-inch high explosive ammunition plus a large quantity of fifty-caliber machine gun ammunition.  Four machine gun positions had to be physically run over by the U.S. tank destroyers to subdue them.  One of the U.S. M-10s was hit by a German Panzerfaust anti-tank rocket and set on fire.  The vehicle’s crew quickly extinguished the fire and the M-10 suffered only minor damage. When it was over, the platoon destroyed 12 machine guns, killed fifty of the enemy and wounded numerous others. (Source)


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44 comments:

  1. The only thing to really complain about, with the Easy 8, was the poor position of the fifty mount.

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    1. Not sure where else you could put it without interfering with the operation of the vehicle or impacting the crew's ability to see out of the tank. I guess it's a case of better than no .50.

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    2. I think the Israelis mounted a scarf ring around the commander's hatch above the periscopes for their .50s. Seen some pictures like that.

      Better position than on the rear of the turret and have to get out to fire it forward, like in the earlier Sherms.

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    3. Do you have any pictures of that. Most of the Israeli Shermans I've seen with a .50 mounted on top had it on a post just forward of the commander's cupola. Couldn't see a scarf ring. Not sure how that would work, the .50 is pretty heavy.

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    4. Ah, thou art correct, o noble scribe. Just my mind seeing "mount is forward of hatch" and interpreting it as a rotating ring like on a halftrack or truck.

      Now it makes me wonder why they didn't mount it on a ring or a partial ring.

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    5. Maybe because of the weight?

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  2. You almost always pay a human price for "going to war with the Army you've got". Gotta say I've learned a lot about the Sherman from this series.
    Boat Guy

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    1. Very true, and in reality you never really know the Army you're going to need until it's too late to do anything about it.

      People always complain about the generals "preparing for the last war," more than likely because the character of the next one is hard to predict.

      Damned if you do...

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    2. The Sherman wasn't a bad tank. Actually it was a rather good tank. Sloped armor when German medium tanks were mostly non-sloped. Consistent armor quality which is something German and Soviet armor couldn't say. A very easy to work on vehicle. And all of it's main guns were good for a medium tank. Just not good enough to fight head to head against a heavy tank.

      Most of our armor was really, in comparison, quite good overall in comparison to the enemies' stuff. Clunky and big, but effective and fast.

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    3. I've seen references from former Sherman crews, who actually used the beast in combat*, which were both good and bad. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call it a "rather good tank," but it wasn't a bad tank. Which is about as high as I'll go accolade-wise.

      * As opposed to the folks who never used it in combat who like it.

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    4. Rather good tank in reference to ease of maintenance, ease of use, reliability, ergonomics... And they'd stand up to a Mk IV, just not a Panther which, in many respects, was a heavy medium or a medium heavy...

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    5. They were reliable, they could kill a Pzkw IV with not much effort, but the long 75 on the Pzkw IV would tear a Sherman up.

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  3. Man I'd still be nervous having a gun pointing at the back of my tank, rather have each turret offset left-right down the line but then what do I know? First ID had a wide front going there.....30 miles wide. Good research Sarge.

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    1. Bear in mind the tanks in the picture are on a road, not expecting combat. If they were, the turrets would be as you say.

      It never ceases to amaze me what one can find on the internet, of course, not all of it is accurate, gotta cross check.

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  4. Short, Sweet, Brutal. I guess I have never been in the position that the few last die hards find themselves. One has to wonder if the same feelings ran through the southerners after the surrender at Appomattox.

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    1. When all you've ever known is being swept away...

      I think the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia felt that.

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    2. My kin still felt that in the 1960's. I never heard the word yankee without a prefix.

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    3. I hear that even now from some of my acquaintances.

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    4. To be fair, I've heard not a lot bad about the actual yankee soldiers during the war, except for Sherman and his march. Now, post war carpetbaggers and the punishments Congress pushed through after Lincoln's death? Yikes. Even my 'yankee' side said that was a lot of vengeful bullscat.

      I liked the concept of Lincoln's plan. Terrible in War, Friendly in Peace. His plan to just get on with living was highly derailed by him not living. Dammit.

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    5. In essence, the politicians in DC, like they always do, f**ked it up.

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    6. (Don McCollor)...Soon after the Civil War, Union Sgt Gilbert Bates walked alone and unarmed carrying an American flag from Vicksburg through Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia to Washington DC. Asked where he would get the flag "The ladies of Vicksburg will sew it for me". They did. His flag flew at Richmond. They did not allow it to fly in Washington DC...

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    7. Thanks for that history lesson. I need to learn something every day, now my day is done.

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    8. If we're not learning, we're not living.

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  5. It is odd to think that at this moment the action is as much about getting as far East as possible for negotiation purposes (e.g., The Soviets) as it is about ending the war. It has always been this way, of course: in the midst of a dying country or empire, everyone scrambles to get as much as they can.

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    1. In the case of WWII, the political leaders had already made their decision as to the zones to be occupied and the lines of demarcation between the Soviets and the Weastern Allies. The push east was probably mostly Patton, can't say I blame him, he knew what the Commies were like.

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    2. Ya gotta wonder how many Germans and other 'national' peoples were saved by Patton giving them a few more days to get ahead of the Soviets.

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    3. Probably not that many. A number of Eastern European countries forcibly ejected their ethnic Germans after the war. So they were somewhat doomed either way.

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  6. Great again, and as always, great photos.

    GI in front has been souvenir hunting already. He has a captured pistol and holster, probably a Polish made Radom as we call it, Vis 35 as the Poles called it, or Pistole 35(p) as the Germans called it when adopted for their use. Pretty much a 9mm copy of John M. Browning's 1911 concept.

    In the tank photo, you can just about smell the "new tank smell" with everything neat and tidy from the factory. Except for the addition of boards across the front where some have added sandbags and others are using it to haul cargo.
    John Blackshoe

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    1. Thanks JB. I noticed the pistol on the GI in the opening photo. I've also seen some Easy Eights with additional concrete armor. No, seriously. Weird looking.

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    2. I'd call it " remedying an equipment lack" rather than souvenir hunting. Radom's are good pistols, even the late-manufactured "rough" ones. A sidearm is always comforting.
      One of James Jones early works was titled "The Pistol".
      Boat Guy

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    3. A pistol is a "nice to have" item.

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    4. Concrete add-on armor is still a thing. That and additional armor from dead tanks, from new purposefully produced plates, from, well, just about anything.

      You see that in the up-armoring of US vehicles during the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

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    5. I'd worry about the weight.

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    6. "Nice to have"; like parachutes and life jackets
      BG

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    7. Heh, but in reality a pistol is a good last ditch weapon. Other than that, it isn't all that useful in combat.

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    8. Odd how few weapons are visible in that first photo.
      As a person smarter than me said,"You use a pistol to fight your way to a real weapon."

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  7. Ah, the Easy 8 Shermans. Wider tracks, lower ground pressure, better gripping pattern and overall a great improvement on a great tank.

    As to the advance, it's going to be one of those "Hey, look, a clump of trees, shoot it up" type of advances, isn't it? Very Pacificy in the way of moving forward and taking ground.

    Still plenty of time to get messed up, slipping on a track repair, dropping an ammo can on your foot, choking on some C-rat...

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  8. Y'know, Sarge, I'll enjoy reading it all again when the book comes out, but it won't be the same without all the comments that follow each episode, and all the hot links to additional information, not to mention the photos.
    Just today, in addition to the story, we've got tank lore, weapons lore, and Civil War paraphernalia...as well as a link to the history of the Big Red One! Yup, some outstanding stuff ya got going on here, Sarge!

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    1. Thanks Patrick. I was worried that you weren't coming back when Maj. Josephson was KIA.

      Glad you're back.

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    2. Lost some guys to some senseless shit, once upon a time. It's worst when you take casualties, and are not allowed to finish the mission. (Higher ups often do not know best, as I'm sure you know!) For some reason the Major's death brought bad memories rushing back. I never know what's going to trigger those episodes, so it's all the more poignant when it happens. Sometimes it takes a day of two to deal with it, but I do eventually, and move on. I didn't miss any episodes, just took a bit catching back up. And yes, I'm glad to be back. Thanks, Sarge!

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    3. Losing folks to senseless shit, I hear ya.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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