Combat Lessons Volume Six: Infantry and Tanks

Current operations point to the increasing employment of the small infantry-tank team in a role requiring the closest cooperation and the ultimate in mutual support.  Recent reports stress the need for the sound training of each individual in his own and his unit’s share of the job and for better understanding of the cooperating unit’s responsibilities, capabilities, and limitations.  Joint training which will develop team unity must supplement technical training if missions are to be efficiently accomplished at minimum cost in lives and time.

Building Team Unity

Acquaintance Aids Teamwork- From the 752d Tank Battalion: “The tank-infantry team must work together from 48 to 72 hours at a minimum before it can hope to operate smoothly. It takes time to learn how the other unit does things and expects you to do them.

“When the tank-infantry commanders (including company commanders and staffs) know each other, they can work together much more efficiently than they can as strangers.”

sherman tank infantry squadAn Okinawa report advocates personal contact between the members of the infantry-tank team: “In addition to technical training before embarking upon this mission, one regiment had tankers bivouac in the infantry area while some of its own men were sent to bivouac with the tankers. This helped to promote closer teamwork through discussions, understanding, and friendship.”

A Tank Ride Helps Doughboy Morale – Says the Battalion Commander of the 175th Infantry: “To make him realize the limited vision and field of fire and the closed-off feeling of the tankers, every infantry man should be given a ride in a buttoned-up tank. One such ride does a lot to counteract the infantryman’s dread of a tank attack and to increase his faith in his own ability to resist tanks.”

Tank-Infantry Team Plays – States a report from the 752d Tank Battalion.: “At certain times the burden of carrying the attack must, because of the terrain and the situation, fall on the infantry. At other times, the tanks are best qualified to bear the brunt of the attack. Both units must know this and learn to recognize the situations in which one or the other unit should lead.”

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The following extracts from field reports describe team plays used by some tank-infantry units in specific situations.

-In General  From a 36th Infantry Division training memorandum: “When infantry and tanks are used together, the tanks’ primary targets are enemy machine guns and riflemen. Tanks will also make paths through wire and anti-personnel mines and break up any counter-attack .

“If infantry does not come up with tanks within a reasonable time, a section or more of tanks should be sent back to investigate. The delay will usually have been caused by enemy MG’s previously overlooked by the tanks.”

From the XXIV Corps On LEYTE: “Infantrymen must protect the tanks by fire to prevent the enemy from am-bushing the tanks. Ground distance between tanks and infantry is dependent upon the ability of the infantry to cover the tanks by effective fire.”

-At Night  From the 191st Tank Battalion: “When working with infantry at night, the tanks should follow the infantry. The tank platoon leader or the tank platoon sergeant, however, should advance on foot with the leading elements of the infantry. Then, knowing the location of our own infantry, he can quickly bring up the tanks when tank targets are located.”

cartoon sherman tank random fire-In Woods   From the 774th Tank Battalion: “We gained surprise in using our light tanks with infantry in woods by having the tanks follow the infantry from phase line to phase line. When resistance was met, the tanks would go up quickly (with guides) and spray enemy positions with canister and .30-caliber machine-gun fire. One section of tanks was assigned to each assault rifle company. Mine re-movers moved just behind the infantry and cleared routes for the tanks. The infantrymen checked all clearings for antitank positions.

“When possible, the tanks moved off the trails and covered one another. On each tank the bow gunner covered the area to the left, and the coaxial gunner covered the area to the right.

“Two infantrymen rode each tank; one was an automatic rifleman and the other manned the tank anti-aircraft gun. Both carried grenades and used the turret for protection. It was found best to assign a definite field of fire to each.  Four mines and fuses to be used by the infantry for local protection were carried in each tank.”

-In Heavy Undergrowth – A report from Headquarters XIV Corps includes these comments on target designation: “Jap pillboxes are usually extremely well hidden and tanks are almost blind in thick vegetation or undergrowth. For these reasons, prime consideration should be given to target designation. Tank obstacles as well as targets should be designated to the tank commander by the infantry squad leader whenever possible.

“Tracer fire proved unsatisfactory for designating targets to the tanks. The best method was the use of red or violet smoke grenades. The full-charge grenade produces too much smoke and obscures the target. How-ever, if the fuse is unscrewed from the grenade and half the charge removed, an adequate amount of smoke will he produced. Rifle projection of the grenade is desirable for longer ranges. Best results are obtained by arming the grenade before firing as this will then give a trail of smoke to the target.”

-Against Tank Stalkers  A G-2 on Okinawa comments as follows: “Infantry must he trained to work with the tank so that the Jap is killed before he reaches the tank. The Jap has a nasty habit of running up to tanks with satchel charges, Bangalore torpedoes, or antitank mines and attempting to stay with the tank until both tank and Jap are destroyed. If he is not killed before he gets to a halted tank, the damage to the tank is usually assured. This is especially true when tanks are employed in villages and towns.”

-When a Tank Is Disabled  Says Colonel C. B. DeVore, 1st Armored Division: “In the event a tank becomes a casualty, the infantry should protect it until it can be evacuated. The crew of a disabled tank should continue to render fire support as long as its armament functions and its ammunition lasts.”

Common Errors That Impair Teamwork

From the 36th Infantry Division: “Platoon and squad leaders frequently forget during attacks that tanks are supporting them. “Infantry leaders frequently go to a tank commander and tell him an enemy machine gun is holding them up but can give no idea of its location. Even giving four or five possible locations helps the tanks to reduce such a target.

“Lack of communication between tanks and front-line infantry often makes real coordination impossible.
“Time for tank reconnaissance and orders is often not provided.
“Failure to use enough tanks sometimes reduces the effectiveness of the combined assault.
“Tank timidity is frequently encouraged. Tanks must expect losses as do the riflemen.
“Failure to give tanks the complete plan of maneuver reduces the effectiveness of tank support.
“Failure to give tanks the plan of maneuver …”

Technique of Transporting Infantry on Tanks Load Allocation

sherman tank mounted infantrySays Lieutenant Colonel Kinne, 781st Tank Battalion, after working with six infantry divisions during European campaigns: “In an infantry mission, a maximum of 10 men may be carried.

“It is imperative that before mounting the infantry,  thorough plans are made by the infantry commanders and tank commanders who are to ride together. It is the duty of the infantry commander to mount infantry personnel in such manner as to preserve unit tactical integrity.  This insures that no time is lost in organizing for combat after dismounting.

“Heavy-weapons units as well as riflemen may be transported. A complete machine-gun or mortar crew with weapon can be carried on a tank.

What Tanks May Expect From the Infantry

“On the march, tanks provide their own security by pointing some of their turret weapons in each direction.

“The infantry riding these tanks can greatly aid the security of the column by maintaining watch over the same terrain covered by the tank gun. This is very important since the tankers’ visibility is generally poor.

“At a halt, the infantry dismounts and takes up security positions. Two infantrymen from each tank patrol at a distance, and the others provide close-in security.

“On arrival in the vicinity of the objective, the tanks will halt and take up all-round defense positions. The infantry will dismount and leave a small number of men for tank protection; the remainder proceed with reconnaissance. When contact is made, the. tanks prepare to support the infantry on call.

Discipline on March

“Mounting and dismounting are on tank commander’s order only; upon coming under fire, tanks will take up prearranged road-march positions and the infantry will dismount and form local security.

“All men must hold on to the rope or the tank. They must not hang on to another rider for support.

“Men must not smoke on tanks. Fire hazard is very great.

“When going through wooded trails or roads, keep eyes to the front to avoid being brushed off by branches.

Organization of the Captured Ground

From the XIV Corps in the Pacific: “When the final objective is reached, the tanks should halt and fire with all available weapons at definite targets or places of likely enemy approach or concealment. The infantry squads of the two forward platoons as well as the company support platoon, should immediately push forward to the rear and flanks of the tank line and construct a defensive position.

If the attack formation has employed a company of tanks with a company of infantry (i. e., three infantry-tank teams in line or in echeloned line), a reserve reinforced company of infantry must be moved forward to construct the defensive positions.  This position should follow standard infantry procedure. of emplacing automatic weapons and mortars, of organizing the ground, digging in, and putting out protective wires. Prepared concertinas may be carried into action on the rear decks of support tanks because time is too short for apron fences to be constructed. No guns should be emplaced nor wire laid in the lanes made by the tanks as they advanced in the attack.

“After the defensive position is organized, the tanks and their protecting squads should withdraw via the original routes of advance. In turning to withdraw, all tank should turn to the right about if possible.  A standard procedure like this enables the protecting squads to clear the danger space without confusion and subsequent loss of time.  Tanks on withdrawing must reverse their turrets and keep them trained in the direction of the enemy because enemy AT guns silenced during the action may he re-manned in time to fire on the withdrawing tanks.

“After the tanks have withdrawn, the lanes should be closed by concertina wire, and further preparations made to repel enemy counterattack. Special attention must be given to strengthening the flanks of the salient. Infantry must investigate all ground within the salient and search all positions for enemy personnel. Heaps of enemy dead should be investigated to insure that none are feigning death.

Infantry-Tank Communications

Between the Leaders  “Because the infantry squad leader furnishes information which directs the fire and movement of his support tank, communication between him and the tank commanders must he continuous and reliable,” states a XIV Corps training memorandum.

“Many means of communication were tried, but the one which worked best under fire was the EE8A telephone adapted for infantry-tank employment. An EE8A telephone is placed inside the tank turret. Also in the turret. at a place easily visible to the tank commander, is strapped a regulation flashlight. A 20-foot length of four-strand electric cable is laid from the telephone box inside the turret and extended down in rear of the tank. An EE8A telephone handset is connected to the end of the cable. The butterfly switch on the handset is modified so that when pressed it completes a circuit through one channel of the cable, lights the flashlight, and attracts the attention of the tank commander. Telephone conversation is then held over another channel of the cable, the telephones being wired for that effect. With this telephone setup, the squad leader has only to carry the handset to be able to communicate readily with the tank commander. The telephone must not he strapped to the rear of the tank, for enemy fire will destroy it.”

By Modified Radio   Reported by the Executive Officer, 330th Infantry, 3d Battalion: “Satisfactory infantry-tank communication was achieved by modifying and installing SCR-536’s in the tanks. Removal of a bolt from the top of the turret provided a hole for the antenna. A short piece of rubber hose was placed around the aerial to keep it from grounding out. The radio sets were modified so that the tank commander could use a throat microphone and could operate the switch with an improvised extension.”

-Prearranged Signal  From a British Infantry source: “When cooperating with tanks, we devise visual signals easily understood by the tankers. Tin hats raised on rifles indicate our positions when tanks are approaching from the rear to join us. A single soldier approaching a tank with his headgear or other distinctive item on a weapon indicates: “Stop, I want to talk to you.” A red Very light indicates the presence of antitank guns, and the direction in which it is fired indicates their location. A green Very light fired in the direction of an enemy machine gun indicates its location, and also serves as a request to the tank to knock it out. A white Very light fired at the tank signals: “Cease Fire.”