Tank Destroyer Command:
Part Two, The Right Stuff
By Peter Lloyd
April 2015

In Part One I related the rationale for the creation of the United States Tank Destroyer Command. Here I will describe the organization and primary weapons which that command utilized in pursuit of its mission. All but one of the tank destroyers, whose development I will briefly describe, have appeared, or soon will, in the Panzer Grenadier game system.  (A note here: I consider an operational unit to be just as much a tool as the equipment that unit may use.)

There is a fairly new adage, “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.” In 1940 the United States Army’s GHQ had the opposite problem, a box of nails (what appeared to be a very large box), but not much of a hammer. The Protective Mobilization Plan had been put in motion. The American high command activated the four field armies in that plan, started Federalizing the National Guard, called up reservists, and so on. This this created a fairly large force, but one wholly unprepared to face the masses of Panzers expected to oppose them.

The solution was the formation of antitank groups. Initially these were regimental-sized units formed under the auspices of General Leslie McNair. After dubious results, and a moment of practice-field glory, the concept of the antitank groups was adopted by United States General Headquarters under a new operational command, the Tank Destroyer Command. While General McNair was the father of the Tank Destroyer Command, Colonel Andrew Bruce (that's him over there on the right) actually raised the baby. To Bruce fell the task of developing tactical doctrines and weapons.

The first order of business was reorganization. Tank destroyer regiments were too unwieldy for effective employment. During the Carolina maneuvers, the antitank groups had operated broken down into their component battalions. In light of that, the primary tank destroyer unit became the battalion. The new battalions were to have three antitank companies, each with two heavy (75mm) platoons and light (37mm) platoon, and a reconnaissance company. The entire force was to be mechanized. This last was partly because the army was anxious to develop mechanized forces to experiment with, but mostly due to the fact that, during the November 1941 maneuvers, the battalion of T19’s had proven to be the most nimble.

Hybrid destroyer battalion after the 1941 army maneuvers.

Tank destroyer battalions were to be aggressive units. When the panzers were on the move, tank destroyer units were to get in the way, hem them in, and kill them. If the panzers were not moving, they were to be located, penned in place, and destroyed. This aggressive posture is what necessitated such a large reconnaissance component. The scouts were not only to locate the enemy, but also to intimately familiarize the battalion with the terrain on which it would operate.

Building these units was another issue entirely. Manpower was not a problem at all. After the Pearl Harbor attack and Hitler’s uncharacteristic honoring of a treaty (and such a bad one at that), the new American occupation had become soldiering. Equipment was another matter. While the Artillery Branch had foisted its gun requirements onto Armor Command, Tank Destroyer Command wanted to undertake more active participation in its weapon development. Both McNair and Bruce knew they would need a credible high-velocity gun to deal with the sure-to-improve enemy tanks that would be coming their way. With the Germans showing the way with their high-velocity 88mm gun, the U.S. Army turned to the American counterpart, the 3-inch antiaircraft gun. The vehicle to carry it did not exist. The order of the day would be to get to work on a design.

OK, next problem. Lots of guys, probably entering combat in less than a year, and nothing to train them with. Tank Destroyer Command would need to take some short cuts to cover them until a “proper” vehicle could be developed. The obvious choice was the T19. The T19 was a development of the standard M3 half tracked armored personnel carrier, adapted for infantry direct fire support. It had performed well in the Army maneuvers. It had a 75mm gun, one based on a turn of the century French field gun, but it was a start. It had credible cross-country performance. After crew protection improvements it was standardized as the M3 Gun Motor Carriage. Not really what the tank destroyer crews wanted, but at least they could practice.

Tank Destroyer Command immediately began work on carrier for the 3-inch antitank gun. They chose the M2 Cletrac fast tractor to mount it on. The development model was designated T1. The Cletrac tractor was a very good vehicle in its intended capacity. It was light, reasonably fast for the time, and could pull a very large load for its size. What it was not good at was carrying things. The gun itself was a bit of a compromise. The 3-inch antitank guns were only 50 calibers long, as opposed to 55 in the original antiaircraft gun. Still a big gun, the developers managed to get it onto the little tractor. The resulting aberration was standardized as the M5 Gun Motor Carriage. A production order of 1580 units was authorized in January 1942. Technical difficulties prevented more than a few examples, perhaps only one, from being built.

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