Via "Peter Brown" <pwbrown@...
'Two WWII Tank Destroyers Saved from the Balkan Wars Are Returning to U.S.
From ARMOR, "The Professional Development bulletin of the Armor Branch" of
the US Army, January-February 2000 page 15:
The M36 tank destroyers were among the most effective weapons against
superior German armor in World War II, with a 90mm tank gun that could
defeat the heaviest German tank. Until the first M26 tank, with their 90mm
guns, arrived in Europe in the final weeks of the war, the was top gun m the
Allied order of battle, the sniper called up when front line troops faced a
stubborn Tiger or Panther.
Most of the M36s were transferred to Allied armies after the end of the war,
including some to Yugoslavia in the early 1950s. The United States Army
built the M36s to implement a tank destroyer doctrine that had turned out to
be a mistake. While they looked like tank, and were built on the Sherman M4
chassis, tank destroyers were only lightly armored. Crews fought from
open-topped turrets and were vulnerable to artillery air bursts. Facing the
worst winter in 20 years during the 1944-45 campaign, makeshift roofs were
added to the M36s, but they were never comfortable battle vehicles.
When the civil wars began in Yugoslavia, alert TV watchers would catch an
occasional use of one of these vehicles on the evening news, moving like
ghosts through Balkan towns. These 50-year-old fighting vehicles were now
rare, indeed, but the Yugoslavians seem to have never discarded anything in
their inventory, and here they were, rumbling into yet another war.
The sight of these rare vehicles heading into combat to face much more modem
Soviet-built equipment greatly upset experts who knew how unusual the M36s
had become. One museum director, Ceilia Stratton of the 4th Infantry
Division Museum at Fort Hood, Texas, said she almost cried. "I knew they
were doomed," she said. Fort Hood was the base for the WWII Tank Destroyer
Command, and getting an M36 for the museum's holdings was something she had
only dreamed about.
Also watching the news and glimpsing this rare WVM armor was Terry
Dougherty, an acquisition specialist with the Army's Centre for Military
History, and Charles Lemons, a curator at the Patton Museum of Cavalry and
Armor at Fort Knox. Both Lemons and Dougherty feared that the M36s would not
survive Serb gunfire or NATO bombs.
The picture brightened somewhat when soldiers of the 1st Armored Division
entered Bosnia in late 1995 and found that many of these museum pieces had
survived intact some m very good condition. Army historians then moved in,
begun two years of negotiations with the Croats, who were the most recent
owners of the tank destroyers. The vehicles were eventually purchased for
about $14,000 each.
With the negotiations successful, the Military Traffic Management Command
took charge of bringing the tank destroyers home to the U.S. One was to be
returned to Fort Hood's museum, the other to the Patton Museum of Cavalry
and Armor at Fort Knox, Ky.
At the Patton Museum, curator Charles Lemons said their M36 had been hit by
a large caliber HEAT round that passed through the upper section of the
transmission housing, sliced through the cabling on the radio, and impacted
on the hull side wall. The entry hole had been welded over with a patch.
The tank destroyer's original gasoline engine had been removed and replaced
with a Soviet T-55 power plant because of the lack of spare parts. "It's a
great conversion. I was really impressed," Lemons said. "Originally, those
vehicles had a top speed of maybe 25 miles an hour. With that engine, I
imagine she'll really get up and go."
This article was based on information provided by John Randt, a public
affairs officer in the Military Traffic Management Command. - Ed.
[Note - a photo with the article shows an M36 - not an M36B2 - with armoured
roof. Caption reads - A WWII M36 tank destroyer is loaded on a transport at
the Croatian port of Rijeka. One of the rare vehicles was being shipped to
the 4th Infantry Division Museum at Fort Hood, Texas, and another to the
Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor at Fort Knox, Ky]