Saturday, December 12, 2009

Army Life: In The Tank(s)!

As a young man of 19, and already used to owning and maintaining his own car, my father quickly become familiar with the mechanized aspect of warfare. Here he describes Christmas leave plans as well as his first impressions of tank training at Fort Knox [footnotes are of course mine]:

December 16, 1951 [post marked 12/17/51]
Fort Knox, KY
Dear Mom, Dad, and all,
There is a train out of Louisville at 8:00 o’clock Fri. night. If I can get off I will be home Sat. morning. We was told we were off at 12:00 Fri. night, but I am going to talk to the Captain tomorrow night. If I have to wait till 12:00 don’t look for me till Sat. night or Sun. morning. As soon as I find out when I can leave I can write and tell you about what time I will be in Madison. Once I get there I won’t have any trouble getting home.[1] It costs $17.70 round trip by train. I got my ticket last Sat 9th. Tell dad he won’t have to bother to take my car to L's because I can fix it when I get there. There isn’t enough wrong with it to bother him. Just so you get the Batt. charged up. Tell R. I got my Nov. pay.  It was $69.00. $6.00 in income tax. I spent most of it already. I bought a few things, a present for P.[2] and something for all of you to look at.[3] We will be driving tanks 4 days this week. Fri. we will be in classrooms. It was 7 above here this morning. No snow yet. Its cold enough to though.
The tanks we drive have 500 HP V8 motors, 5 speeds ahead and one in reverse. They weight 34 tons. [4]  Its not as big as the ones they are using in Korea.[5] Its what they had in the last war, and are good only for training. The big ones have 810 HP motors and have 90mm and 105mm guns. These have 75mm guns. I can tell you more about tanks when I get home. Its too much to explain. The motor in one of these tanks weighs 2,300 lbs. As much as a car. They have two 12 Volt batt. or 4 car batt. 24 Volts altogether. One track weighs 3,500 lbs. 5 men make up the crew. Driver, gunner, loader, bag gunner, commander. The loader has the worst job in combat because he has to load the guns.
I got K.P. again Tue.  Hope to see you Sat.
[1] Home was Richland Center and the closest rail station was Madison, about 50 miles east.
[2] His younger sister and my aunt (the same one who gave me these letters :).
[3] Possibly he's referring to a Kit-Kat Clock which hung in my grandmother's kitchen for many years thereafter. The same clock now hangs in my kitchen.
[4] Probably Sherman M4 tanks, which were used extensively during the Second World War. Around 50,000 of them were produced and only a fraction of them destroyed. Sherman M4's were armed with a 75 mm canon and each tank weighed around 32 tons, slightly less than my father's quote of 34 tons, however many Shermans were reinforced with more armor after WW II and or got motor upgrades. Sherman M4's also carried a crew of 5, and its motor used a five-speed forward transmission with one reverse gear.
[5] From the specs he is clearly referring here to the new and more powerful Patton class of tank which was first introduced into combat in Korea.  

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