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Patton's Nightmare:
The Pieces
by Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
February 2015

In 1961, outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the American people of the dangers of a "military-industrial complex" dominating national policy. "Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry," Ike said, "can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. . . . Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect."

Eisenhower's thoughts were not quite ready to be tossed on the ash heap of history with other "quaint" notions, but already his warnings came late in the day. For over a decade American industry had been pumping out massive new weapons to fight a war that never happened.

Those weapons are the focus of Iron Curtain: Patton's Nightmare. It's a book supplement with 77 die-cut-and-mounted playing pieces, 20 scenarios and a full-contact campaign game. And so the weapons never used as intended come instead to your game table, which is where they belong.

The Arsenal of Democracy

Patton's Nightmare depends on Elsenborn Ridge for American troops, transport and leaders. Tempting as it was to outfit Marines with Cold War weaponry, all of the 77 new pieces are in U.S. Army colors.

Belton Cooper's Redemption

Back in the 1990s, I worked on a memoir called "Deathtraps" for my old friend Belton Y. Cooper, an ordnance officer with the 3rd Armored Division during the 1944-1945 campaigns in Europe. He wouldn't let me include the worst of his verbal tirades against George S. Patton and the U.S. Army ordnance establishment over what he saw as failure to bring a true heavy tank to the troops before the war ended. Reliance on the inadequate M4 Sherman, Belton believed literally to his dying day, had doomed thousands of American tank crewmen to needless death and dismemberment.

The M26 Pershing tank, according to Belton, would have given American tankers a worthy vehicle that could stand up to the big German tanks. Development on a heavy tank had begun in 1940, but testing of the M6 in early 1942 proved the vehicle grossly inadequate. Instead, a series of medium tanks began development, steadily increasing in size and firepower until the T26 was re-designated a heavy tank in the summer of 1944. In production this became the M26 Pershing, and the first production models rolled off the lines that November. Third Armored Division would receive two of them by war's end, modifying them with so much extra armor to prevent an embarrassing loss that the extra weight made them nearly useless.

Had a hot war broken out in the later 1940s, the Pershing would have seen much more use though production slowed after the war and several "memorials" at Fort Knox were taken off their pedestals and hurriedly refurbished for service in the Korean War. It had a very good 90mm gun and good armor protection; the 470 horsepower Ford V8 was actually less powerful than the engines in some of the later Shermans and this greatly hampered its mobility.

 

We've provided both the M26 main battle tank version and the M45 support tank with a 105mm howitzer. Belton always did think wargames were a silly way to tell history, much less to make a living, but I think he'd have liked this counter. I miss the old guy who taught me how to change diapers.

The Hated Sherman

Of course, that approval would probably have been balanced out by the inclusion of two late-war Sherman variants a gross misuse of resources, according to the retired engineer. The Sherman began to receive a much better 76mm gun in 1944. Patton's M4/76 represents the M4A3E8 "Easy Eight" with improved suspension; the official designation seemed a bit overwrought to print on a game piece. It's just as mobile as the M4 with a 75mm gun, and though its direct fire performance is not quite as good it has far more capability against enemy armor. But still not nearly enough if it runs into the Soviet JS3.

 

Likewise, rather than saddle the other variant with its official "M4A3E2" designation, the Jumbo gets the same name the troops gave it. The Jumbo had much thicker armor and was intended for use as an assault tank; the engine remained the same and so it was also much slower than the standard Sherman.

Light and Fast

The M24 Chaffee light tank is often held to be the best American tank design of World War II, with firepower and protection equivalent to the Sherman but much greater speed. With a 75mm lightweight gun derived from an aircraft cannon, the M24 had the same engine and chassis as the obsolete M5 Stuart light tank but a much-improved hull design and better armor.

This is the tank shown on the cover of our Battle of the Bulge game (it's not actually present in the counter mix), and it did take part in the battle, two of them being present with the 740th Tank Battalion and 34 with the 2nd Cavalry Group. But the bulk of the 4,700 built only reached the troops after the war in Europe had come to a close.

Heavy Tanks

Battlefield experience showed that even with its good design and thick armor, the Pershing could be knocked out by the Royal Tiger's 88mm gun. Within days of the first loss of a Pershing in battle, the Army ordered an improved version with better armor and a much more suitable 12-cylinder engine. The four test models ordered met their specs - the same performance of the M26 with better armor - but never went into series production. Had the Cold War turned hot, the T32 likely would have been the tank ordered for general use, and so we've given you six of them.

Heavier Tanks

The T29 tank program began in September 1944, with the object of providing a heavily-protected vehicle to attack fortifications and deal with super-heavy tanks like the Royal Tiger (and, not openly stated but widely understood, the huge Soviet tanks then also in development). The tank was a lengthened version of the M26, with a long, high-powered 105mm cannon and four .50-claiber machine guns and a much more powerful engine than the Pershing. A handful of test models were delivered in 1947, but this vehicle never went into production. Like other tanks, it would have been designated with an M instead of a T in service, and so it is here.

 

The same design team also drew up the T30, with the same chassis but an even larger turret housing a 155mm gun. This required a power hoist and rammer, and the 155mm rounds came in two parts, greatly slowing its rate of fire. It had a more powerful engine than the T29, but it was no faster thanks to its greater weight.

Really Heavy Tanks

The United States didn't recognize the "assault gun" category, and so the T28 was designated a heavy tank. And it certainly was: 85 tons of armor dragged forward by a V8 engine weaker than that in the Sherman tank. The high-velocity 105mm gun, similar to that in the T29, was supposed to destroy fortifications while 12 inches of armor plate kept the crew invulnerable to counter-fire. Of course, with a top speed of 8 miles per hour it could literally have been run down by a Soviet sprinter waving a Molotov cocktail, and so maybe it wasn't the best idea ever to come out of the military-industrial complex.

Two test models appeared in late 1945 and early 1946, eventually re-designated as a "gun motor carriage," but when the T29 appeared the next year with the same armament and much better performance, the big armored turtle was dragged out to the Aberdeen Proving Ground's museum collection, where one of them rusts still.

Armored Personnel Carrier

The M39 saw limited use in the late 1940s and early 1950s as a fully-tracked APC to replace the M3 halftrack. It was a modified M36 tank destroyer with the turret removed and a .50-caliber machine gun on a ring mount. By the 1950s it gave way to the series of box-like vehicles that culminated in the ubiquitous M113. It's very useful in game terms, but was expensive and dissatisfied the Army brass.

Send the Pershing into battle. Click here to order Patton's Nightmare!

Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.