Triumphant Tankers

By Bill Wilder 14 Sep 2003 0

The Korean Crisis

The end of World War II brought hope out of tragedy. The Axis dictators with aspirations of worldwide control or influence had been efficiently dealt with. Peace was at hand-at least that's what the world thought at the time. Actually, nothing was farther from the truth. A number of factors had come into play that would continue the strife and only reorient it to a new day.

The Soviet Union, embroiled in its own development from a sleeping giant to a world power, had been rudely awakened by the German attack in June 1941. The near miraculous development of that huge country in less than four years and under such pressure had brought a new world power into focus. Musical chairs had been played, and the Soviets were seated and comfortable. They had trounced the vaunted Wehrmacht (though not without the material help and timely intervention of allied forces) and felt invulnerable. Premier Stalin, already busy gobbling up orphan countries in Eastern Europe, was hungry for more.

Taking advantage of the unrest within third world countries seeking to throw off the colonial yoke of European masters, these people were more than ready to swallow the Communist line, "The only thing you have to lose are your chains!" What they failed to see was that in throwing off the old chains, new, stronger chains would be placed upon them by the Communist party. They actually had a lot to lose.

So it was that the political upheavals and bids for power worldwide would eventually lead to a confrontation between Communist bloc countries and the rest of the world. The threat of an insidious Marxist philosophy, corrupted even further by greed and love of power, was enough to prompt the United Nations to take a firm stand in 1950.

The UN takes a Stand

The cause was the explosive invasion by North Korea across the 38th Parallel into South Korea on June 25th, 1950. To get a full background on the causes of this conflict and the state of the world at that time, please read the article on Korea: The Unknown War. After the subjugation of the great nation of China and its inclusion in the folds of Communism, nearly one-fourth of the world was under its influence. The largest nation geographically (the USSR) and the largest nation in population (China) now seemed to dominate all of Asia and a healthy portion of Europe.

The aggression into South Korea seemed to be the place where this type of insidious conquest would have to be stopped. President Harry S. Truman decided to put U.S. troops into Korea to back the ill-equipped, poorly trained South Korean forces, now headed south in total rout.

Not that the U.S. was much better prepared. For five years the armed forces of the United States had reeled under an economic meat cleaver that chopped off funds and equipment capriciously. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were simply shells of their former greatness. Using equipment largely left over from World War II, what remained of the military was in a deplorable condition to begin challenging anyone, no less a formidable communist foe. Still on June 30th, five days after the invasion had begun, U.S. troops were committed to war.

The Role of Armor in Korea: The Forgotten Hero

The great victories achieved in Europe with tanks at the forefront seemed forgotten or ignored by the beginning of 1950. Little had been done in the years after the Second World War to improve the armored forces of the United States, either in doctrine or equipment. The general decline of the U.S. armed forces after World War II also had its effect on the armored branch of the services.

Tanks, which had spearheaded the drives across France and into Germany, were now largely neglected. Little research and development was done. Over 50,000 Sherman tanks alone had been built for the great conflict, but in the immediate years following, nothing was accomplished to upgrade or even maintain this vital part of the military.

By the end of 1948, however, with the growing Communist threat, efforts were made to change that situation. It was recognized that the Soviet Union had kept up its armored strength and outnumbered the American tank force by more than 20 to 1. That would be difficult in the light of the constant cuts being made by the Defense Department to meet the new budget of President Truman.

In 1949, it was decided to revamp the structure of the U.S. Army. One of the new requirements was that each infantry division was to have as an integral part of its composition a heavy tank battalion at divisional level and in addition, a tank company attached to each infantry regiment.

Late that same year, for example, the four infantry divisions in Japan were each authorized a heavy tank battalion. The 71st Heavy Tank battalion would go to the First Cavalry Division; the 77th to the Seventh Division; the 78th to the 24th Division; and the 79th to the 25th Division. However, most of the efforts toward modernization were only on paper.

In reality, only one company of each of these battalions was actually formed. They, along with the tank element of their reconnaissance units, were not the heavy tanks called for, but the lighter M-24 Chaffee tanks. These had been built as replacements for the earlier M-3 and M-5 Stuart light tanks.

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