Tank Destroyers

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Tank Destroyers were the U.S. Army's response to Germany's Blitzkrieg armored victories over Poland and France in the early years of World War II. Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, head of army doctrine and training, decided that mobile, powerfully gunned antitank units were the best way to defeat enemy tanks. In November 1941, the War Department ordered the creation of such units, designated “tank destroyer” battalions.

Tank destroyer weapons could be either towed or self‐propelled. The towed weapons were 3‐inch artillery pieces pulled by half‐tracks. Self‐propelled tank destroyers had 3‐inch, 76mm or (late in the war) 90mm guns mounted on tank chassis within fully rotating, open‐topped turrets. These carried less armor and mounted more powerful guns than the standard M‐4 Sherman tank.

Tank destroyer units were trained to operate aggressively and en masse to destroy enemy armor. In combat, however, they were usually dispersed among front‐line units, where they provided their most valuable service as mobile artillery directly supporting the infantry. Paradoxically, U.S. tank destroyers that did encounter heavy German tanks were generally outgunned.

After World War II, the army decided that there was no functional difference between a tank destroyer and a medium tank. Thereafter, the tank destroyer's fire support and antitank missions were officially assigned to tanks. The last tank destroyer units were disbanded in 1946.
[See also Armored Vehicles; Weaponry, Army; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

Charles M. Bailey , Faint Praise: American Tanks and Tank Destroyers During World War II, 1983.
Christopher R. Gabel , Seek, Strike, and Destroy: U.S. Army Tank Destroyer Doctrine in World War II, 1985.

Christopher R. Gabel