Item description for The Tank Killers: A History of America's World War II Tank Destroyer Force by Harry Yeide...
The Tank Killers is the story of the American Tank Destroyer Force in North Africa, Italy, and the European Theater during World War II. The tank destroyer (TD) was a bold-if some would say flawed-answer to the challenge posed by the seemingly unstoppable German blitzkrieg. The TD was conceived to be light and fast enough to outmaneuver panzer forces and go where tanks could not. At the same time, the TD would wield the firepower needed to kill any German tank on the battlefield. Indeed, American doctrine stipulated that TDs would fight tanks, while American tanks would concentrate on achieving and exploiting breakthroughs of enemy lines.The Tank Killers follows the men who fought in the TDs from the formation of the force in 1941 through the victory over the Third Reich in 1945. It is a story of American flexibility and pragmatism in military affairs. Tankdestroyers were among the very first units to land in North Africa in 1942. Their first vehicles were ad hoc affairs: Halftracks and weapons carriers with guns no better than those on tanks and thin armor affording the crews considerably less protection. Almost immediately, the crews realized that their doctrine was incomplete. They began adapting to circumstances, along with their partners in the infantry and armored divisions. By the time that North Africa was in Allied hands, the TD had become a valued tank fighter, assault gun, and artillery piece. The reconnaissance teams in TD battalions, meanwhile, had established a record for daring operations that they would continue for the rest of the war.The story continues with the invasion of Italy and finally that of Fortress Europe on 6 June 1944. By now, the brass had decreed that half the force would convert to towed guns, a decision that dogged the affected crews through the end of the war. The TD men encountered increasingly lethal enemies, ever more dangerous panzers that were often vulnerable only to their guns while American tank crews watched in frustration as their rounds bounced harmlessly off the thick German armor. They fought under incredibly diverse conditions that demanded constant modification of tactics. Their equipment became ever more deadly. By VE day, the tank destroyer battalions had achieved impressive records, generally with kill/loss rates heavily in their favor. Yet the Army after the war concluded that the concept of a separate TD arm was so fundamentally flawed that not a single battalion existed after November 1946.The Tank Killers draws heavily on the records of the tank destroyer battalions and the units with which they fought. Veterans of the force add their personal stories. REVIEWS "This gritty and well written account of the TD's is a fantastic read....Whether your interest is armour or history I would highly recommend this book."V.Branigan, Military Modeling.com, 01/2008"...this thoroughly researched and well presented history of a relatively little known, but significant, contributor to victory is a valuable addition to US Army history"Journal of America's Military Past, Winter 2007"...very well-done... ought to be welcome by those of us who enjoy a good read ..."Missing Lynx, 08/2008
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Harry Yeide is an international affairs analyst with the federal government. He has worked primarily with political and security/military issues, writing assessments for the President of the United States and other senior policymakers. He is the author of The Longest Battle", The Tank Killers", Steel Victory", and Weapons of the Tankers" and the coauthor, with Mark Stout, of First to the Rhine". Yeide lives with his wife Nancy and three cats in Hyattsville, Maryland.
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Seek, Strike and Destroy Aug 18, 2008
Like Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle, the U.S. Army was rudely awakened from twenty years of deep sleep by Hitler's noisy blitzkrieg victories in Poland and France -- they had no ground weapon to counter the feared panzers. Army visionary General Lesley McNair was soon pushing for a unique new weapon -- the tank destroyer (TD).
With his new book, veteran military writer Harry Yeide gives us an informative broad history of the tank destroyer force, and a "representative look into the world of the men who fought in the TD battalions." This book is not your typical dry academic slog. Written in a clear prose, "The Tank Killers" is a fast paced, entertaining read, told in many voices. Mr. Yeide is wise enough to allow his subjects to tell their own stories. The author's disjointed narrative mirrors his principal sourcing -- unevenly written after-action reports and TD battalion histories.
Unsure how to organize the new tank destroyer force, purists dictated that the destruction of enemy tanks, operating in mass, more or less independently of infantry and artillery would be the sole mission of the new TD.
The army's brain trust believed that tank destroyer battalions would operate as mobile reserves and not as part of the front line defense. Large TD forces would swarm to the point of an attack and maneuver to strike at the enemy's flanks -- preferably from ambush. The enemy would be located by reconnaissance and TD firing positions quickly established. However, Mr. Yeide argues, this doctrine "utterly missed the realities of combined-arms warfare."
Meanwhile, in Washington D.C. -- in part to please the thrifty Congress -- lobbyists announced, "One good tank destroyer can be produced for materially less than the cost of a tank, and in far less time and with less critical materials."
Not everyone in the army was on board with the new TD program. General George Patton argued that the tank destroyer "was destined to become nothing but another tank."
Two types of TD's were sent to North Africa for the U.S. Army's initial action against the Axis. The first was the M3 half track -- rightfully nicknamed: 'Purple Heart Box' -- mounting a 75mm cannon. The M3 performed fairly well in North Africa, especially as highly mobile field artillery. All to often, M3's were sent to lead the attack.
The M6 sported a copied German 37mm anti-tank gun hurriedly mounted in the back of a Dodge weapons carrier. In combat, the M6's gun was quickly found to be totally ineffective against German panzers and its crew completely vulnerable.
Several problems with TD operations were soon realized. Field commanders "tended to order TD's to expose themselves recklessly to enemy fire instead of relying on concealment and surprise. Tank destroyers were often assigned to missions for which they were not suited."
Eager officers often ordered TD's to charge German tanks in the heat of battle instead of relying on concealment and surprise.
Because of high visibility in the desert. General Bradley recommended that half the TD battalions converted to towed guns because they would be easier to conceal -- like the highly camouflaged German 88mm guns he feared. The top heavy, low clearance M3 half track TD was fazed out at end of the North Africa campaign.
For the Italian campaign, two new TD's were introduced. The GMC M10 'Can Opener' was based on a Sherman tank chassis featuring two inches of armor and a hard-hitting 3-inch gun mounted in an open turret for better observation. Later, the famous all-new M18 Hellcat arrived in time to fight at the Anzio beachhead. The M18's weight was less than half the M10's and carried an new powerful 76mm gun in an open turret.
Running up against Italy's Gothic Line, and later Germany's Siegfried Line, the TD's found few panzers to fight, and were diverted to attacking pillboxes, concrete emplacements and strong points.
In the Normandy campaign, tank destroyers faced new challenges. The towed guns, in fact, did almost no tank killing and were mainly used for indirect artillery. As before, M10's and M18's were sent to lead the assaults.
It was realized that only massed TD's could defeat Panther and Tiger tanks. Widely scattered TD's were not an effective way to fight panzers. In Normandy, M10 and M18 TD's were not well suited for offensive action against dug-in German panzers and infantry. Headquarters recommended the TD battalions be upgraded to the new M36 Jackson.
During the Normandy campaign, tank destroyer crews were trained to use bazookas, lay mines and to fight as infantry or cavalry. The unit's jeeps were assigned to carryout reconnaissance, the TD's provided much indirect artillery support.
In September, 1944, the M36 arrived in ETO, incorporating a re-manufactured M10 hull and a 90mm gun in an open power turret. The M36 could under most circumstances knock out any German tank including the Royal Tiger II.
After suffering heavy losses in the Battle of the Budge, all towed units were slated for conversion to self-propelled equipment. Again, tank destroyer units had trouble concentrating enough TD's in mass to fight off powerful German armored divisions. Although scattered about, TD's still knocked out over 500 German panzers in the Ardennes campaign. Every TD unit achieved a respectable kill ratio of at least 3 to 1 after D-Day. Sadly, vital radio communication between TD units, infantry, armor and aircraft was never really solved.
The ETO's General Board concluded by war's end "the trend toward tanks with the same firepower and mobility as the tank destroyer's and the incorporation of adequate anti-tank defenses in the infantry divisions, rendered the tank destroyers superfluous. The Board recommended that the Tank Destroyer Force be dissolved." General Patton's prediction came true.
Mr. Yeide observes, "The U.S. Army's Tank Destroyer Force in World War II must rate as one of the most successful "failures in American military history."
"The Tank Killers: A History of America's World War II Tank Destroyer Force" contains a gallery of 32 great photographs, 7 functional maps and a bonus appendix of 61 tank destroyer battalions. One of only a handful of books on the subject, this work will be a welcome addition to the bookselves of World War II and armored warfare enthusiasts.
The Tank Killers Apr 28, 2008
A good book on a neglected subject. It could have been much more comprehensive, but it is a good introduction to the subject.
The Story of a forgotten part of the American Forces in WWII Apr 27, 2008
One thing I've been interested in for years is the American concept of tank destroyers that was implemented in WWII. The M-10 always held a fascination for me. A beautiful vehicle, interestingly with an open top to decrease the weight of the vehicle to improve it's performance. With this said, I picked up Mr. Yeide's The Tank Killers with the intent to expand my knowledge of the American tank destroyer forces. Initially The Tank Killers opens by describing the American realization that we would be involved in WWII and the recognition that America's armored forces were totally lacking for `modern' warfare. As a part of this realization, a desirement develops to employ a force who's focus is to intercept an armored thrust and destroy it. The Tank Killers then proceeds to describe America's initial developments in developing tank destroyers, the concepts of how they're to be used, and the training of the troops. The following chapters then go thru the different actions the tank destroyers went thru in Europe and North Africa. Each chapter provides a brief description of the actions from a higher level. Individual engagements are described but their more like summaries from battalion after action reports than the analysis of a historian or an oral history. After describing the action in an operation most chapters conclude with a nice Lessons Learned section.
The Good This book does a good job shinning some light on forces that are often forgotten. Most histories, oral and analyzed focus on armored forces, airborne, and infantrymen. Rarely do these books provide a good focus on the support arms like the tank destroyers. For this reason alone this makes this a good book! This is shown when Mr. Yeide goes into good detail on how tank destroyer forces were to be deployed and how they were used. I particularly enjoyed reading about the use of the tank destroyer's reconnaissance forces. This is something that is totally unrecognized by most people. I also enjoyed reading about the training tank destroyer forces went thru. Interestingly, Commando style training was part of their background. Finally, there's some very nice pictures showing different tank destroyers in action and the Appendix A with a summary for all of the Tank Destroyer battalions is very nice.
The Bad Where's the maps? Most of the maps are rather cheese wiz. There's some great actions described in here that should have had some nice maps showing how the tank destroyers fought the different battles. The number of kills is also a little hard to believe. But then what counts as a kill. Just because you hit a tank and get it to stop doesn't mean it's killed. I also found that too much was written with no real analysis done. Mr. Yeidi provided go after action summaries but fails to deliver good descriptions of actions at points, particularly situations where the tank destroyers failed to some degree (in Mr. Yeidi's defense, his description in North Africa was very good). This particularly shows in the post-Normandy timeframe when I feel Mr. Yeidi was more focused on getting thru the book about as fast as he could.
The Rating My bottom line is that this is a 3.5 star book. There's excellent opportunities in here to make this a 4.5 star book but I think Mr. Yeidi wanted to just describe things from after action reports rather than doing some analysis and cross checking German and American data. I was particularly frustrated with his description on the 28th ID and 893d Tank Destroyer battalion at Schmidt. When I merge this with the lack of maps, the book pans to a 3 star book for this site purposes.
Strong book Feb 15, 2008
Mr Yeide has written an excellent over all history of the Tank Destroyer force in WWII. This is a much understudied area. The contribution of America's tankers and TD crews to victory over the Nazis is all too often underrated or even ignored. I applaud that someone is finally willing to tell this story.
The over all coverage of the founding and development of the TD force and its battles is very strong. Of particular interest is way the author covers the development of TD tactics and armor infantry cooperation. The way commanders in city fighting used teams of infantry platoons supported by a tank to TD to assault buildings. When taking on enemy tanks, the TD platoons learned to break up into individual units and successfully hunt the much more powerful Panzers one at a time, instead of trying to take them head on, sometimes leaving wounded enemy tanks for infantry bazooka teams to finish off.
The only thing that could possibly make this story better would be the inclusion of more personal stories. I would like to hear more what daily life was for an average TD crewman. Maybe that would be more appropriate for a follow up volume?
So Glad I Bought It! Jan 12, 2008
I am an avid reader of military history. I have several hundred books in my personal library. This book holds pride-of-place as one of my all-time favorites. I've read it several times already, and expect I will re-read it many times in the years to come.
I find it to be a perfect mix of big picture history versus personal anecdotes. We, the readers, get to see how and why the US Army created the Tank Destroyer Command. We get to see how field commanders wound up using Tank Destroyer units in ways that were completly un-related to the doctrine and training of the troops. We also get ample first-hand accounts of action from Tunisia, to Italy, to France and Germany.
If you are familiar with the history of the US Army in World War 2, you must have questions about the Tank Destroyers. What was the thinking behind making a different kind of tank ... with a heavier gun, lighter amor, an open top, and no hull or co-axial machine-guns? What was the point of an armored fighting vehicle that could go 30-50mph at a time when guns were not stabilized to shoot-on-the-move? Why were they held in seperate battalions rather than being integrated into armored or infantry divisions?
In my case the interest is more than casual. My father was in the Tank Destroyers in WW2. As a child I got pieces of the story ... of fast tanks with no armor on top, of big guns, of tank crewmen trained to use bazookas, or mines, or satchel charges, whatever it took to kill an enemy tank. In "The Tank Killers" Harry Yeide offers up the whole story for the pleasure of the avid amature historian as well as the casual reader.