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A Concentrated Dose of Tanker-Lore
on December 3, 2009
War Stories of the Tankers
Michael Green, 2008, 319 pages
What makes this book so interesting is that it not only covers WWII, but includes a section on World War I tankers and current stories from Iraq.
The WWI section is fascinating because there were so few US tankers. In this section you hear from guys who attacked German positions, were sometimes knocked out and had to work their way back to Allied lines to avoid capture. It's amusing to read that a Major disembarked from his disabled tank and brought his basket of messenger pigeons with him.
WWII experiences are likewise illuminating. A US tanker looks at a tank, notices the excellent camouflage paint and suddenly realizes he's looking down the barrel of a German tank. Another tank leader accepts that he will not survive an encounter with the Germans and gives his personal effects to an aide to send home. Some of his troops follow his example. Fortunately, one survived to tell the tale.
Vietnam experiences have a different feel to them. The writers have often been to officer's school and their reports have the air of an after-action report. Radio dialogue is presented and one can really get a feel for what fighting the Vietcong and NVA soldiers was like.
Finally, first-hand experiences from Iraq are presented. The reader gets a new appreciation for the fighting spirit and technical competence of our tankers. While I'm sure that this extends to all branches of the military, tankers not only "know their business" but have a very aggressive spirit. It's fascinating to read Gunnery Sgt Nick Popivitch's lengthy account of playing a cat and mouse game with Iraqi insurgents. Often unsupported by infantry, Popivitch's huge tank sneaked around Fallujah and tried to outwit insurgents who were determined to knock out his tank. When they finally got him in their sights, the insurgent's RPGs just bounced off or detonated ineffectively. Popivitch usually got them first.
The pre-Iraq stories offer great insights into the thinking and actions of our tankers. The Iraq experiences really highlight that the US not only has fabulous military equipment but crews these weapons with technically capable and aggressive soldiers and marines.
A Soviet officer's comment about US tankers in Europe during the cold war went something like this: "When American tankers go into the field, they practice their war fighting skills. When Soviet tankers go into the field, we pick potatoes." (p 215)
These stories will offer American readers the comforting idea that our soldiers are probably the best trained, best led and best equipped in the world. If we can maintain that edge, our future is secure.