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702nd Tank Battalion Photos

 

The following photos come from the collection of Major Robert Rawls, 305th Combat Engineer Battalion.  Major Rawls passed away recently, and the photos were purchased from his estate. My thanks to Joel Parkinson, whose uncle was in the 80th for making these photos available!

 

Pershing tank of the 702nd just after war's end

 

 

Damaged Red Devil tank being retrieved:  This photo really bothered me.  To the casual reader, it may just appear as a broken military vehicle being hauled away.  I knew better.  I knew that for this tank to get broken, as it is, means that the five men inside it had to suffer.  This is a crime scene photo.  The victims of the crime were five experienced tankers who died needlessly.  The perpetrator of the crime was a rear-area general from the 76th Infantry Division who was in a hurry, and had no business being in a front-line area directing the actions of a single tank, and overriding the sound advice he was given by a battle-experienced junior field officer.  The general insisted that this one tank ford a stream in a particular spot next to a blown bridge.  In basic tanker training, armor personnel were taught to never do such a thing, as it was likely a set-up for a booby trap.  To this arrogant general, the crossing seemed easy.  That was the point.  The Germans wanted it to appear easy, so that the Americans would fall into the trap.  The tankers protested the general's orders to no avail.  A few seconds later, five men were dead and a tank was no more.  The general quietly made himself scarce like the arrogant, pompous coward that he was.

 

So, dear reader, what you see in the photo above, and the four following, are what remains of five good and brave men who died from one man's haste and ignorance.  When the tank crossed the stream, it hit a 500 lb. high-explosive aerial bomb that the Germans had planted as a mine.  The crew died instantly.  If you look close at the tank, you'll see that the turret is missing, as are the tracks.  From this angle, it doesn't look as though the tank was badly damaged.  What you cannot see, is that the force of the explosion blew straight upwards, through the thin floor of the tank.  The force was so great, that it blew the turret off and it landed quite a few yards away.  The force was so great indeed, that not only was the turret blown off, but the tank's cannon, a very heavy 75mm gun was blown out of the turret.  With forces sufficient to do that to a tank, the crew never stood a chance.  This scene was positively identified for me by Pete Porreca, President of the Red Devils Association.  During the war, Pete ran a tank retriever, and was at this scene when this photo was shot.  The flat-bed truck shown, belonged to the 305th Engineer Battalion.  Ironically, these five men, all well experienced, had banded together in one tank crew precisely because they did not want to get killed.  Their thinking was that since they were all experienced men, they stood a better chance of surviving if they didn't have any green replacements in their midst.  T-5 George Tarconish told Pete Porreca just that, not long before this incident.  Pete could never forget the irony of those words.

 

For details of what happened that day, I refer you to my book entry for March 6, 1945: "Reports on the progress of our battalion offensive.  Companies 'A', 'B', 'C', and 'D' went into the attack, took three towns and attacked wooded areas.  One man was killed in Company 'D', our light tanks unit.  Some of them came back with battle fatigue, they stated that it was or is plenty rough.  In all our training we're told never to ford a stream where a bridge was blown.  Lt. McGonigal of Company 'D', was given a direct order to lead one of our heavy tanks across the ford.  In doing, so, the tank hit a demolition bomb near Beinsfeld, killing five crew members; Cpl. Ray Hamilton, Gunner Sgt. Kocyan, Loader P.F.C. E. Kupetz, Driver Tech 5 George Tarconish and the Bog P.F.C. Martin.  It's hard to lose good men of this sort, all A-1 Tankers, but it goads us on, we'll get revenge soon.  The kitchen and supply trucks are still at Service.  Company area awaiting orders to move.  Ammunition trucks left early this morning.  [Author's Note: The order to cross that ford was given by a general of the 76th Division.  Another bad case where a rear-echelon general interfered with tactical matters in the field and cost good men their lives.  The reader will remember a similar incident at Argentan, France on Aug. 18, 1944 when the 80th's Commanding General caused the unnecessary deaths in 3rd Platoon, Co. B, 702nd.  This unfortunate kind of incident occurred more than is recorded by history.]"

 

Flat-bed truck that will haul away the damaged tank

 

The turret from the damaged tank laying on the ground next to the truck, minus its 75mm cannon.

 

The turret-less/track-less tank being pulled by a winch towards the truck

 

The turret-less/track-less tank being pulled by a winch towards the truck

 

 

Red Devil tank getting a tow-bar installed on it.  The man attaching the tow bar is Pete Porreca.  Capt. Juckett had ordered him to tow the tank belonging to T/4 Lowell Grimsley out of the mud.  During the day, the weather was warm enough for the field to get muddy.  At night, it froze solid.  Grimsley's tank had bogged down in the mud, and spinning his tracks only dug it deeper.  This area was under direct enemy fire at the time.  They had just finished taking one town, and were scheduled to attack another town nearby the following day.  Capt. Juckett told Pete that they were short on tanks, and the expected replacement tanks had not arrived yet, so it was imperative to get Grimsley's tank operational immediately.  In the far right of the photo, you can just make out the corner of Grimsley's tank.

 

Red Devil tank getting a tow-bar installed on it

 

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