The Adventures of a Sherman Tank Driver in the Pacific
247 pages. 8 pages of B&W pictures. No maps. No index.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Part One: War, and Things Start to Warm Up (chapters 1-5)
Part Two: I'm a Tank Driver... More or Less (chapters 6-10)
Part Three: Shipping Out (chapters 11-19)
Part Four: Fire Support (chapters 20-30)
Part Five: We Leave Leyte, Headed North (chapters 31-43)
Part Six: New Tanks, New Men, Old Fears (chapters 44-46)
Part Seven: My Skipper Gives Me a Medal (It's a Good Conduct Medal, But What the Hell) (chapters 47-53)
Part Eight: Homeward Bound (chapters 54-56)
Robert Dick - perhaps known to some of us as a columnist for R/C Modeler magazine - was an infantrymen with the California National Guard when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. His unit was mobilized and dispatched to Hawaii, but to his frustration, a bad ankle was about to force a transfer to a non-combat post. Looking for a fighting role that wouldn't require a lot of walking, he transfered to the 763rd Tank Battalion as a tank driver.
This was a "light tank" unit, and he gives a number of interesting facts and anecdotes about the M3 Stuart - from the difficulties of starting it up, to driving directions passed by foot to shoulder, to racing down mountains...
In 1943, they switched over to the M4 Sherman medium tank.
Chapter 7 (pp.42,45):
Compared to the light tank, the Sherman was gutless, no power at all. The steering was heavy, the driver sat, almost stood, upright when the hatch was open and the seat raised. The steering laterals were between the driver's legs and, to me, felt awkward. It had no brakes, and, like the M3, had to be double-clutched when shifting gears. Top speed on a paved surface was around thirty miles per hour... if you were lucky. Fuel consumption was approximately three miles per mile... not miles per gallon.
The unit first saw combat at the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines (1944). Cutthroats (the code name of Robert's Sherman) landed without opposition, and over the next few days advanced through the heat and the mud.
Chapter 19 (p.93-94):
As the first tank got to the far edge of the clearing, the Japanese rushed us. They came out of the jungle on all sides, carrying mines attached to long bamboo poles. Before any of us could react, the tracks had been blown off the lead tank and also off the last tank. We were stuck right here, and while I couldn't speak for anyone else, I was stunned. I just couldn't believe that real Japanese soldiers, guys who were intent on killing us right now, were in plain view and swarming all over our tanks. As a driver there was nothing I could do except watch this unbelievable attack. We couldn't leave the trail because of the ditches. Now we were bring swarmed, and enemy soldiers were jumping onto the tracks trying to get at us.
For the most part, however, the tanks were road-bound due to the mud, and were soon relegated to providing artillery support as the fighting moved into the mountains. Meanwhile, the crews did a little souvenir hunting with the help of the infantry... sometimes getting into more trouble than they bargained for.
Next came the landing on Okinawa, which again was unopposed. Unlike the mud and jungle of the Philippines, this island had suitable terrain for tank warfare, and for the first time, Cutthroats was able to operate as part of a "a true tank/infantry team - which they did for the next 30 days.
Chapter 43 (p.176):
And then it happened. Lieutenant Finian ordered us to begin firing into caves and emplacements on the ridge face. I couldn't figure out what was happening, but hell, orders are orders. So Anderson began firing. Off to our right was another tank... and he too began firing into the caves...
Anyway, we sat there and shelled the ridge, and suddenly I heard heavy enemy mortar or artillery fire exploding to the rear of us. I knew from past experience that we would soon be ordered out of the area, so I grabbed the shift lever with my right hand, preparing to go into reverse as soon as I got the order from Bomax.
Right at that moment, we were hit....
With the loss of Cutthroats, and after 30 days on the line, Robert was combat weary, and ready to put in for a transfer... but instead accepted promotion to tank commander of one of the new Sherman models that had just arrived, with a crew of "new boys." Setting out on its first mission, the new tank threw a tread (due to the driver's inexperience), and Robert found himself transferred in the field to take command of the new Cutthroats. And while still on his first day back in action, he received the wound that ended his part in the war - shot while out of his tank, evacuating a wounded infantrymen.
The book, although containing combat accounts written decades after the war, is an entertaining read with many encounters that will inspire tabletop scenarios, and with many details that make the life of a WWII tanker much more vivid.