Monday, September 12, 2016
Book Review: Tank Action by David Render
This book is the memoir of a tank commander’s war from Normandy to war’s end written recently by a 90 year old veteran & a ghost writer. Render landed in Normandy on D+1 as a virgin 19 year old officer and commanded a Sherman platoon of 4 tanks (1 a Firefly) all the way to Bremerhaven. The book provides a particularly interesting perspective for wargamers – much more relevant to our games of FOW & BA than most military history which concentrates on bigger pictures. A number of items struck me as very relevant to wargames rules.
Render lost two Shermans - one hit a mine, the other got bogged and they bailed out before the German artillery destroyed it. He also had a lucky escape from a Pak42. Two shots just missed but in taking evasive action the tanks slid off the elevated road & got bogged on the embankment as a sitting duck. But before the 88 could reload again, another tank of his platoon plastered the Pak with HE before round 3 could finish them off. They were later able to tow his tank out. His lost tanks were immediately replaced – the allies had more machines than men to operate them. On the other side of the leger, he bagged just one AVF – a Hetzer, but wiped out countless PBI & gunners with HE & MMG.
German small arms were vastly superior to allied issue. The first thing a sensible new officer did on reaching the front was check out dead & captured German officers for a luger & a machine pistol. The author’s best mate was killed when his regulation Sten gun accidentally fired inside his tank.
Hitler’s buzz saw rules are spot on – the allies hated them.
Panzerfausts were effective and greatly feared: By the time they got to Germany fausts were causing 36% of allied tank losses. When operating without infantry support (which was often due to lack of manpower relative to machines) the tankies wouldn’t go within 200m of a hedgerow or building without plastering it with HE & MMG fire. There was always plenty of ammo.
The sound of Nebelwerfers scared the shit out of you, but you heard them coming & had a chance to dive for cover.
The Shermans were indeed disliked as Tommy Cookers/Ronsons – even the Diesels, though the petrol version was much worse. They disliked the petrol Shermans not only because they burned, but the engines were far less powerful (it was a petrol Sherman that got bogged in Dutch mud & pulverised by 105’s).
The 75mm Sherman gun wasn’t all bad. Its Pen might have been moderate, but the good HE, high rate of fire, plentiful ammo supply & fast turret traverse often made up for it. FOW’s Semi-Indirect Fire rule seems quite appropriate as they thought nothing of smothering any potential threat with fire. There is an anecdote of a comrade’s Sherman coming face to face with a Tiger in a village street. Before the 88 could be traversed to bear on the Sherman it was copping a steady stream of 75mm shells. They couldn’t penetrate, but their impacts made operating the Tiger impossible. Clearly the Tiger crew were Double Bailed then failed their Morale Test – they abandoned the tank which was captured intact.
Friendly fire was an ever present hazard. The tankies didn’t mind the 25 pdrs so much as buttoned up they were pretty safe, but the flyboys were a big worry.
The Germans he fought were a complete mix of every permutation from Conscript to Veteran & from Reluctant to Fearless. The Brits seemed to be pretty consistently Reluctant Veterans (other than the Fearless paras). The Yanks seemed more gung ho but less experienced, so Confident Trained looks right for most of them.
The British had an awful attrition rate for their tank commanders. While doctrine was to operate buttoned up, they nearly always had their head out so they could spot AT guns or Panzerfausts before they hit them. They were prime targets for snipers as well as shrapnel & mg bullets. A near miss AT shell going past their head could also kill or concuss.
The troops had no respect for Monty - they thought he was a complete prat. They didn’t like gung ho divisional commanders either. They called one Major General Thomas Von Thoma because they thought he was more likely to get them killed than a German general.
The book shows that problems of command and coordination of arms have a big influence on the battlefield. These aspects are neglected or given only lip service in many wargames rules. The BA Command Test is certainly justified.
To summarise: A good read & very informative.