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Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Steve Cole's thoughts on several incidents in military history that no one outside of the military remembers today.

1. During the Dieppe raid, Lord Lovat's commandos captured a German artillery battery. A flight of German fighters (called in by the battery officers as their position fell) roared into to seek revenge. Lovat, perhaps thinking these were British fighters, stood up and waved. The fighter pilots assumed that German troops must have recaptured the battery and did not fire. Presumably the pilots reasoned that the original report had been inaccurate, that fighting had continued until a German victory. After all, no British soldier would stand up in a gunfight with plenty of Germans all around. He must be a German officer signaling that all of the British commandos had been eliminated.

2. During the naval battles of Guadalcanal, two Japanese battleships found themselves in a close-range gunfight with two American heavy cruisers that were one-third of their size. The Japanese ships switched to high-explosive shells since they reasoned armor-piercing shells (designed to be fired at other battleships) would go straight through without exploding. The massive shells blew the upper decks of the American cruisers into scrap, but exploded on contact and did not cause holes in the hull that would sink the ships. (One Japanese battleship was actually sunk by the cruisers because the range was so short their smaller guns could penetrate the battleship armor.) At the next battle, the remaining Japanese battleship determined that the enemy was an American battleship, and loaded armor-piercing shells. The problem was that they shot too high, and the armor-piercing ships hit the upper parts of the South Dakota and went clean through, causing extensive but non-fatal damage. The second American battleship (Washington) used radar to accurately hit and sink the second Japanese battleship.

3. Tanks in World War II fired more high explosive ammunition at infantry, buildings, bunkers, anti-tank guns, trucks, or other such targets than they did anti-tank ammunition at other tanks. Tank-fired high-explosive ammunition was not as good at that function as artillery fired ammunition because the gun had to fire at a higher velocity to stabilize the shell. While modern students of history love the Sherman-Firefly because of its superb (British) 76mm cannon, the crews didn't like it much because the 76mm cannon was actually less effective firing high-explosive ammunition than the old 75mm gun that wargamers hate.

4. The US went into World War II with the idea of lightly armored tank destroyers to kill enemy tanks and tanks with a gun designed to fire high explosive round to kill non-tank targets. They learned the lesson that the best tank destroyer was another tank, one with a really nice cannon. US tank destroyers were armed with a 76mm gun instead of something else because the US Navy had warehouses full of such guns intended to be installed on submarines. Half of US tank destroyer battalions were towed anti-tank guns which were almost useless in offensive operations. Those battalions that could not be re-equipped with armored vehicles were used for rear area security, guarding prisoner cages and ammo dumps. These battalions were constantly harvested for replacements for the tank destroyer battalions in combat.