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An Anti-Tank Infantryman Speaks Out

By Ken Aladeen 

 

A 57mm Anti-Tank Gun Like That Used By Ken Aladeen

 

Very early in August 1944, we were committed to take the Argentan - Falaise Gap.  Being very green troops, and having no idea of the gravity of our mission it seemed to my youthful mind that we had Britten off more than we could chew.  German defenses were adequate and manned by seasoned troops.  The most effective element of their defense was a number (12 I think) of Mark V Panther tanks.  They would roll up out of a depression, fire on a target and disappear before we could call in artillery.  The only air support at that time was based in England -although at the time the weather was against air support.  My platoon was three 57mm Anti-Tank guns.  A squad of 10 men for each gun.  This gun was a reworked British "6 pounder", so called because it fired a 6-pound projectile.  Our version had good ballistics.  A muzzle velocity of about 3000 fpm.  It would penetrate 2 inches of armor plate and ricochet with killing velocity about 50 times.  It sure didn't look very impressive.  The gunner had to kneel or sit to look though the sight.  On this day an excited GI came running up to our position and told us to get the gun back down the road a hundred yards or so as a Panther was sitting out in the open.  We were able to balance the gun so that it could be hand wheeled short distances.  This we did.  When we swung it off of the road we rolled it into a shallow depression beside the road.  That lowered our profile to about chest height.  Within seconds we had a round chambered and fired.  That one caroomed off the turret.  The next one had to be one of the luckiest shots of the war.  It hit on a narrow ring between the turret and hull, which the turret rotated on.

 

The shot locked the turret so that the only way the tank could traverse its gun was to rotate the entire tank.  This they did.  But we were not a very big target, so they never saw us.  Ask any tanker and he will tell you that a tank that is "buttoned up" is stone deaf and about 90% blind.  We hurriedly poured about 5 more rounds into the Panther.  One caused him to throw a track so he was unable to escape.  At that point the Panther crew started to bail out.  We had gotten our kill!  That hole in their defense had to be covered by adjoining Panthers.  Later a Bazooka team got another one.  It was too much for them.  We had been pounding their infantry with artillery and that night they started to withdraw.  The amount of time was a blur.  It seems now to have been 5 to 7 days from the time we were committed.  History records it as a major event in the battle for Europe - for us it was a blood bath and a rude introduction to what was ahead for the next 10 months.  At least we were no longer kidded about our "Little Pea Shooter".  Most didn't consider the 57mm much of a weapon.  Later we were called on to do all kinds of missions, and all because of that August day in Argentan

 

I'm not sure of the date, but it was after we had crossed the Moselle and waited for three weeks while the rest of the war caught up with Patton.  We caught up with a British motorized column.  As we sat for a few minutes waiting for the road to clear there was an excited exchange between a Brit Six pounder unit and our 57mm AT Squad (you may remember they were basically the same gun).  They were anxious to know what we thought of "their" gun.  They were happy with our report.  Our only complaint was the lack of a HE (high explosive) projectile for it.  The Tommies couldn't understand that.  They were unhappy because they didn't have an armor piercing AT round.  It didn't take long before we were trading our AT rounds for their HE stuff.  Both sides went away feeling they got the best of the trade.  A few days later we were held up behind the advancing line because of a blown bridge and we had to move laterally to find a place to ford the stream.  When we caught up with the rest of the outfit, we found them pinned down by some very accurate mortar fire.  It was determined that the observers for the mortar were in a church steeple on the near edge of town.  An absolutely bare field separated us from the church.  We couldn't move without drawing their fire.

 

Nothing the rifle companies had would reach them (about 1000 yards).  Our squad was ordered to get the gun into action and put as many rounds into that steeple as we could.  Once the truck got us into position it was not more than a minute before we were ready to fire.  Since we didn't know what the reaction of the brass would be we had not told anyone of our newly acquired ammo.  The first round was a direct hit and the steeple disappeared.  Even we were pleasantly surprised.  But the cheer that went up from the beleaguered rifle companies sounded like a touchdown at a football game.  Finally, we were getting some respect for our "pea shooter".  We never did tell anyone about the British ammo that made us look so good that day, but the other gun crews knew darned well we weren't shooting regular anti-tank rounds.  Even so, they were willing to let us take those risk assignments, ostensibly because we had the best gunner.  He really was a great gunner.  His name is Bill Swett -hometown, Boyd, Oregon

 

 

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