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Screwed-Up U.S. Light Tank History By ZalogaAug. 17 2010
Sam Damon Jr.
- Published on Amazon.com
This is an error-ridden, early 1984 work by the great writer and military vehicle artist Steven Zaloga who later on has done excellent work. Zaloga contradicts himself on 37mm guns--in his excellent, towed anti-tank (AT) Gun book, U.S. Anti-Tank Artillery, 1941-45 he notes they were useful against Japanese infantry in the Pacific; yet in THIS BOOK he says they had NO value. Wrong. In addition to towed mounts, 37mm gun equipped M3/M5 Stuart light tanks were successful and useful in the Pacific where their superior mobility over heavier medium Sherman tanks were vital. 37mm gun Tetrarch and Locust light tanks were Hamilcar glider delivered by the British 6th Airborne on D-Day and the Rhine river crossing with decisive effect. When the Germans saw these light tanks guarding the Orne river canal bridges they gave up trying to counter-attack. When the 1st British Airborne refused the offer of these light tanks for Operation MARKET-GARDEN, they failed to break through light German resistance and consolidate on Arnhem bridge to hold it long enough for the tardy XXX Corps tankers to arrive. If the 37mm was weak armament--put a bigger gun on--which is exactly what we finally figured out to do--it's not the fault of the chassis. Yet, Zaloga fails in this book to acknowledge the excellent M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage--in his diatribe against the Stuart tank chassis which had a 75mm pack howitzer to fix the 37mm weakness that was very successful in WW2--both the Pacific and with mechanized cavalry units in Europe. It's ironic because LATER IN THE BOOK he mentions the French using HMCs well in Vietnam combat! Moreover, the British also used M3/M5s for recon roles--so his statement that they used only wheeled armored cars is false. Zaloga desperately needs to read retired LTC Lou Dimarco's History of the Mechanized Cavalry ASAP.
The problem is Zaloga appears to have never served in any military and lacks first-hand experience to have a starting point for forming his military opinions that instead get violently swayed by the quality of information he gets--often second-hand from others with corrupt agendas like the heavy tanktards within the U.S. Army. Zaloga for example, wrongly states the Sheridan could not be low velocity parachute airdropped (LVAD) from 600-900 feet--only LAPESed from 5-10 feet. Get off your rear and FIND OUT Zaloga! don't just print rumors from dishonest heavy tankers who hate light tanks. Zaloga is also wrong about the 11th ACR's Armored Cavalry (ACAV) M113 Gavins: their role and utility as 360 degree suppressive fire MACHINE GUN female light tanks was not replaced by the few big 152mm gun Sheridans male light tanks they received. Some M113 Gavin ACAVs also had 75mm and 106mm recoilless rifles for big gun effects. Zaloga needs to refrain from creating false, simplistic cliches' over complex realities. Take the time to be accurate and if it takes more books to explain, write more books!
Zaloga also has a nasty habit of being over dramatic declaring something will "never" happen or is the "last" in typical historian hyperbole. Whether the U.S. Army wants to be dishonest and stupid and call their light tanks something else--doesn't mean they are anything but--light tanks. There is no law forbidding in the future a flash of understanding and honesty to occur and for us to start calling light tanks what they are: light tanks. A few years after this book was written, U.S. Army 3rd Battalion/73rd Armor M551 Sheridans were being LVAD parachute airdropped (which Zaloga said was impossible) into combat in Panama supported by 5th Infantry Division M113 Gavin light tank mechanized infantry previously airlanded by C-5s and C-141Bs. Zaloga laments the black beret as being "short lived" when today EVERY U.S. Army Soldier has earned and wears one--if not wearing the other color berets of the Airborne, Rangers or Special Forces. So much for Zaloga's "Never". Things can and do change for the better--that's why it's so important to get military history RIGHT--so we don't forget what RIGHT LOOKS LIKE.
Zaloga acknowledged that the Sheridan might have a come-back which it did for Airborne Rapid Deployment Force missions, and understands light tanks can go where heavier ones cannot by his description of the French success with M24 Chaffee light tanks fire supporting mobile infantry and paratroops in Indo-China combat. He is at his usually excellent self describing how combining infantry in wheeled trucks with light tracked tanks damns the whole formation to lesser mobility--a warning the U.S. Army of today needs to heed with its equally absurd mixed and all-wheeled formations that constantly drive into enemy land mines. Zaloga reveals rare info that the French air-meched in M24 Chaffee, M5 Stuart and HMC light tanks on 3 occasions: the famous Dien Bien Phu battle, Luang Prabang, Laos, and into the Plain of Jars. He recounts South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) use of M41 light tanks being highly successful: destroying 10 x T54 medium and 28 x PT-76 light North Vietnamese Army (NVA) tanks during Operation Lam Son 719 at no loss to themselves. The real ground combat success story of the Vietnam war was our M24 Chaffee, M41 Walker BullDog and M113 Gavin light tanks.
Zaloga wisely ends his book with a futuristic presentation of the AAI Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) light tank derived from a M113 chassis using a rapid-firing, high elevating 75mm gun that could be used to shoot down enemy aircraft or explode enemy heavy tanks. It's still a good idea we need today more than ever. The light tank with heavy firepower we lacked at the beginning of WW2, we had by its end--and we certainly can have and need now.
Read this book with caution and compare/contrast to what Zaloga says in other books--and of course what the salient facts are in reality.