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Three M10 3” GMC Tank Destroyers engage Panzers from the 10. Panzerdivision at El Guettar, Tunisia in 1943. Guns and Guts:
Tank Destroyers in Combat
by Mike Haught

In my mind, the only thing cooler during World War II than a tank is a tank killer. It takes a special type of soldier to actively seek out enemy tanks and destroy them with stealth, speed, and cunning. The tank destroyers (or TDs for short) are often hidden behind the dashing and famous exploits of their tank brethren. With a few exceptions, such as Harry Yeide’s excellent book The Tank Killers, tank destroyers have been unjustly overlooked.
Tank destroyers are essential American vehicles in Flames Of War. They are an excellent antidote to those pesky German tanks with special rules allowing them to spring ambushes during the game. The Axis player’s view is quite different. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen Axis players roll their eyes when the tank destroyers hit the table, claiming that Scotty must have “beamed them down” onto the battlefield.

So that’s it: American players love them—Axis players hate them. In this article, we will explore the secrets of
  the tank destroyers to not only better understand their contribution during World War II, but also to get to the bottom of the logic behind the tank destroyer special rules in Flames Of War.

Right: The official patch worn by the troops of the Tank Destroyer battalions.
The official patch worn by the troops of the Tank Destroyer battalions.
Seek, Strike and Destroy
A competition was held within the army to chose the new tank destroyer force’s slogan, and in a narrow vote, “Seek,
Strike and Destroy”
won out over the more direct “Guns and Guts”.

Genesis of the Tank Destroyers

Each nation had its own type of tank killers, the Germans had Panzerjäger (tank-hunter), the Soviets had SU and ISU tank killers, and the British and French had a strange habit of using portee anti-tank guns (towed guns fired from the back of a truck). During World War II the US Army did not want its Sherman tanks to engage enemy tanks but instead to support the infantry. To deal with enemy tanks the US Army created a force called the tank destroyers.
 An M10 3” GMC Tank Destroyer navigates the hedgerows of Normandy. The key characteristics of the tank destroyers were high mobility and excellent anti-tank capability. These separated the TDs from anti-tank guns (very limited mobility) and tanks (meant to engage enemy infantry). Their high mobility allowed them to meet a German armoured spearhead, ambush, and then swiftly escape.
Initially the tank destroyers were equipped with 75mm guns mounted in a M3 half-track. These guns performed well in Tunisia, but they were merely a stop-gap solution until the new and more powerful M10 GMC could enter service.

Tank Destroyer Tactics

The tank destroyers first saw combat in Tunisia and followed the American armies into Sicily and Italy. They proved that they were up to the task of halting German tanks.

A self-propelled tank destroyer platoon was organised specifically for the task of killing tanks. It had one command jeep, two M20 utility armoured cars, and four M10 or M18 tank destroyers. The platoon’s jeep and M20s would speed far ahead of the TDs and find suitable ambush locations, such as the reverse slopes of hills, woods, or other concealing terrain. They also looked for the best escape route as well so that they could quickly evacuate the TDs if need be.
Battle of El Guettar
Once the ambush point was selected, the M10s or M18s would move into position and hit the enemy tanks. The thick hides of most German tanks usually meant that normal American Sherman tanks would have to use costly tactics to flank and knock out their target. However, the heavy 3” or 76mm guns on the TDs were powerful enough to crack open most German tanks. If a TD couldn’t knock out its target from the front it would get around the flank using reconnaissance and kill the heavy cats much more easily than a Sherman tank could and with far fewer casualties.

Tank Destroyers in France, 1944

Tank Destroyers in Normandy
When the tank destroyers landed in Normandy in June 1944 they were a well-trained and prepared force. The USArmy sent 23 tank destroyer battalions to Normandy in June-August 1944. Like their tank brethren, they became mired in the complicated hedgerows and bloody roads of northern Normandy.

Tank Destroyers in the Normandy bocage
During the break out, tank destroyers led the way attached to cavalry reconnaissance units. Many M10s were fitted with Cullin hedgerow cutters. These pronged devices were attached to the front of the vehicle so that it could tear straight through a hedgerow without the TD losing much speed. This simple solution helped the US Army break out of the Normandy beaches and into the rolling countryside beyond where tanks and tank destroyers could operate freely. The TDs nipped at the heels of the retreating Panzers all the way to the German border.

Tank Destroyers in Brittany

In Brittany the tank destroyers took on a new role as assault guns. The Germans had very few tanks in the area and were a rare enough sight that the infantry had no problem overcoming them. What the infantry did need help with was clearing out enemy fortifications.

The Germans had spent a good deal of time fortifying Brittany with machineguns, flak and anti-tank nests, and
bunkers. When the infantry encountered these strongpoints, they called upon the tank destroyers to clean them out. The TD men plastered the bunkers and nests with high explosives while the infantry mopped up the remaining defenders.

When the TD battalions reached Brest, an important port city in Brittany, they charged in blasting apart buildings and pillboxes. Some battalions remained outside the city and offered their guns as artillery, pelting the city from afar. Brest finally fell on 18 September and the tank destroyers headed east to join those
already fighting on the German border.
Task Forces

During the campaign in France tank destroyers were often assigned to task forces (temporary units put together for a specific job) and sent on special missions, often working closely with the mechanized cavalry. The two units were cut from the same cloth. They both had excellent radios, were trained in reconnaissance work, and were used to operating in dispersed groups. Finally, they were both highly mobile and could keep up with each other as they sped deep behind enemy lines. They also helped each other out in combat. The TDs offered the cavalry anti-tank capability, while the cavalry’s armoured cars helped keep enemy infantry away. In short, there could not be a more perfect paring in the US Army for deep reconnaissance work.

Task Force A

One example of a TD task force was Task Force A, which was formed around a tank destroyer command and sent into Brittany to secure vital bridges and harass retreating German forces. The 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion was paired up with the 15th Cavalry group. The TD battalion was equipped with fast M18 Hellcats, which helped them keep pace with the cavalry’s armoured cars as they sped across the Brittany peninsula. The task force completed its mission with astounding success and set an example of TD and Cavalry co-operation for the campaigns to come.

Task Force A
Task Force A is featured in the new Turning Tide (page 226) compilation book. This force allows players to assemble a powerful American task force for the first time in Flames Of War using two platoons of tank destroyers combined with armoured cars and engineers.

Learn more about Turning Tide here...
Listen to the Radio Free Battlefront episode on Task Force A here...

Tank Destroyers in the Normandy bocage
Tank Destroyer Tactics

In Flames Of War tank destroyer tactics are reflected in the Tank Destroyer Doctrine and Seek, Strike, and Destroy special rules (see page 157 of the Flames Of War rulebook). The TDs can be held off the table while the platoon’s jeep and M20s scout out ahead. Once a player has found a suitable ambush location, the tank destroyers are revealed and the ambush is sprung.

Tank destroyers can be used in all sorts of roles, much like they were used during WWII. Some players use them to shore up weak spots in their line, others use them aggressively to flank the enemy. In the book Dogs and Devils, players have the option to use them as artillery. So depending on your mission as a company commander, tank destroyers are excellent tools for any American force.

Tank Destroyers as Tank Destroyers
Tank Destroyers as Tank Destroyers
The primary function of the tank destroyers is to kill enemy tanks. In this role a player needs to plan out how they want to use them in advance. Before deploying them on the table, consider the sorts of things that a TD platoon lieutenant would, such as the direction of the enemy assault, terrain, and an escape route.

The first thing you want to sort out is where you think the main enemy attack is going to come from. If they have stacked all of their tanks on one side, its a fair guess the attack is going to come from there. Then consider where they are going to hit your force. Which of your objectives is he likely to target? You should try and establish the start and an end points for your enemy’s assault.

Once you know the line of attack, look at all of the terrain
features along the line which you could use for your ambush. Hills make exceptional choices as you can often retreat down the reverse of a slope without having to take bogging checks. Forests or woods are also good as it is very difficult for the enemy to spot you.

Once you have picked the ideal terrain feature to spring your ambush, quickly plan out your escape route. Your TDs have thin armour and are not likely to stand up against much return fire, but their special rules give them the ability to escape using the Tank Destroyer Doctrine special rule (see page 157 of the Flames Of War rulebook). So you’ll want to work out an escape route to get out of danger.
Escape Route
Escape Route
As stated before, hills usually offer the best escape route as you normally don’t have to take a bogging check unless its a steep hill. This allows the TDs to move their full movement away from danger and out of sight behind the hill.

Forests and woods carry with them the risk of bogging down when trying to escape, but a TD only has to retreat from the edge of the forest before it is completely hidden from sight. Tank destroyers in woods can use the terrain as a base of operations, poking in and out to snipe away at the enemy.

Other terrain features, such as hedges, buildings, or depressions in the ground make good spots to ambush from as well. However, you will need to make sure there is another feature nearby to escape behind.

If you can accurately predict your enemy’s attack, carefully
choose your ambush location and plan your escape route, your tank destroyers will reward your preparations by turning your enemy’s tanks into piles of twisted, smouldering metal!
Tank Destroyers as The Anvil and Artillery
Tanks Destroyers as the Anvil
Tank Destroyers as Artillery
During WWII, American armoured divisions would use the
TDs as an anvil to engage the enemy at long range while the hammer (Sherman medium tanks) struck the flank. If the enemy reacted to the Shermans, the TDs would hit them in the flank. If the enemy engaged the TDs, then the Shermans would hit them—either way the enemy was flanked.

You can use this tactic in Flames Of War as well. Tank
destroyers are also excellent for putting a base of fire down in the middle of your line while your company moves out and hits the enemy’s flank. Place them in concealing terrain to help them survive any return fire. Meanwhile run your Sherman tanks up a flank. With Shermans in the flank and TDs in front, your opponent now has a difficult decision ahead of them!

Tank destroyers in Italy found the restricting mountainous
terrain impossible and the few enemy tanks were easily
countered by infantry weapons or artillery. Instead, the TDs
took on new fire missions as artillery. The TD men reorganised their platoons into batteries each with six TDs and constructed ramps for their guns to get extra elevation.

In Dogs and Devils, the Tank Destroyer Artillery Platoon
has six M10 3” GMC tank destroyers, which can fire
bombardments. These can decimate enemy troops caught in the open or they can link to the Fire Direction Center (FDC) to add their firepower to heavier bombardments.

Learn more about Dogs and Devils here...
Learn more about the Fire Direction Center here...
Tank Destroyers as Assault Guns
Tank Destroyers as Assault Guns
France, the TDs were called upon to assist the infantry as assault guns. They would help knock out machine-guns, bunkers, antiaircraft guns, and other weapons that would hold up the infantry.

Similarly, in Flames Of War, a tank destroyer platoon can act as assault guns to help your infantry. While a TD is lightly armoured, it does pack a punch with its main gun and its 3+ firepower. In games where your TDs don’t have enemy tanks to kill, use them to knock out enemy machine-guns and anything else holding up your infantry. They are excellent at destroying enemy nests and can run over barbed wire entanglements, clearing the way for your assault.

Use your TDs to guide your infantry into the assault. Keep the vulnerable TDs back and let the infantry go in to eliminate enemy infantry and anti-tank guns. Don’t forget to also use your .50 cal AA MGs to help pin down the enemy for your infantry assault.

As you can see there are many ways that Tank Destroyers can help your American army, and these are by no means the only tactics that can be used. Its up to you as a company commander on how to use your TDs in battle.

~ Mike.
Weapons of the Tank Destroyers
Lessons from the British in North Africa revealed that once an ambush was sprung, towed anti-tank guns were vulnerable to return fire and almost certainly overrun if left on their own. American tank destroyers were therefore fully mechanised and armoured with their own self-propelled vehicles.
M3 75mm GMC
M10 3" GMC
M18 76mm GMC
M20 Utility Car

Last Updated On Tuesday, April 12, 2011 by Blake at Battlefront