Little Willie: The Dawn of Fire, Maneuver, and Shock Effect
On 6 September, 1915, the prototype British Mark I Tank rolled off the assembly line. “Little Willie” was 14 tons, underpowered, routinely overheated, and couldn’t traverse a trench: its raison d’etre. Even though Littlle Willie was a far cry from the Battlefield Dominating, Fire Breathing Iron Leviathans we have today, he would eventually evolve into the British Mark IV tank that made its debut a year later on the battlefields of the First World War.
The Continental Army
On 23 April 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress authorized the formation of 26 line infantry regiments in order to organize the impromptu army that formed around Boston to besiege the British after their defeat at the Battle of Concord. Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire quickly followed suit.
On 14 June, 1775, the Second Continental Congress authorized the recruiting, training, and equipping of ten companies of riflemen, to serve as light infantry, from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New York, with a minimum age of 16, 15 with parental consent. In the tactics of the day, a single light infantry company was part of an infantry regiment made up of ten or so other line infantry companies. The line companies would form the battle line, while the light infantry company would move forward in an open formation, defeat the enemy’s light infantry then disrupt the enemy’s line by sniping their officers and forcing them to prematurely discharge their weapons before the line infantry engaged. Outside of battle the light infantry were the scouts and foragers of the regiment.
By authorizing the light infantry companies which were subsequently attached to various Massachusetts line regiments around Boston, the Second Continental Congress effectively “stealth nationalized” the colonies’ legislatively approved provincial armies. The colonies planned on that eventually, since Massachusetts in particular, wanted help paying for and equipping the army. (The provincial officers hated the new riflemen and complained they were the most I’ll-disciplined, rambunctious, and troublesome men in their formations. Later, in 1776, the original ten companies were reassigned from their colonial regiments to form the 1st Continental Regiment.) Furthermore, the Second Continental Congress specifically named four major generals and seven brigadier generals. The Congress conspicuously left off George Washington’s name, much to the irritation of his rivals, whom they announced as Lieutenant General and Commander of the Continental Army the next day.
This We’ll Defend.
Happy birthday, United States Army!
Tanks for Fury
When America is serious, she sends tanks.
So let’s talk about tanks, on this most auspicious of weeks. Unlike our little brother the infantry, who usually gets into trouble and has to be rescued; or our big brother the artillery, who is overly dramatic and throws tantrums; armor is the middle brother, you know the competent one who actually gets things done. And armor does it the way it is supposed to be done: with fire, maneuver, and shock effect.
“Wonk, wonk, wonk”, like Charlie Brown’s frickin teacher, but history backs me up:
Whose advances were measured in kilometers in a war where for years the advances were measured in meters? Tanks.
What so terrified Wehrmacht soldiers that they called upon their Luftwaffe brothers to make horizontal their feared 88mm anti-aircraft guns? Tanks.
What broke the Marines off of the beach at Tarawa? Tanks.
What were both the measures of performance and measures of effectiveness for the Germans and Soviets as they tore across Eastern Europe for three years? Tanks.
What did US Army infantry divisions routinely have more of than German panzer divisions in 1944 and 1945? Tanks.
What nearly drove the US out of Korea? Tanks.
What did the most effective units in Vietnam use? Tanks.
What held the line outnumbered in the Golan and Sinai in 67 and 73? Tanks.
What did the North Vietnamese conquer South Vietnam with? Tanks
Why did the Soviets not invade West Germany in 1983? Tanks.
What led the charge across Kuwait in Desert Storm? Tanks.
What did the Rangers wish they had in Mogadishu? Tanks.
What crossed the Sava into Bosnia in 1996? Tanks.
What took Baghdad in 2003? Tanks.
Falluja in 2004? Tanks.
The Surge? Tanks.
What is heard out of every infantry leader’s mouth immediately after he says, “Follow Me!”?
That’s right, it’s “We need tanks.”
Armor is the Combat Arm of Decision.
“So why all the tank stuff, Ski”?
Because I like the smell of diesel exhaust, and I’m routinely late to work on Mondays because I take the long way to my cubicle just to get a whiff. Because I genuinely enjoy building an engagement area, and nothing warms the very deepest cockles of my little bitty black heart than the sight of a bulldozer to go along with it. Because nothing brings a group of individuals closer than living together in a steel box or aluminum beer can for weeks on end, and knowing that you are all going to die together from cancer caused by FRH or GMD. Because after that when I go to heaven, St. Peter’s going to tell me, “Come on in Ski, you actually shot all of your long range movers without cheating”. Because I once deceived my wing man’s driver into chalking white X’s all over his Bradley after his BC f#@ked with the wrong new platoon leader. Because I got to tear ass around the German countryside Reforger-style in the four greatest days of my life. Because the most beautiful moment in history is always stand-to. Because “Above The Law”, “Ghostrider” “Can Can”, and “Conan” are names near and dear to my heart, and I’ve been to the desert on a “Horse with No Name”. Because there is nothing more intimidating on the planet than the front slopes of four fire belching Iron Behemoths in a wedge rolling like the Juggernaut taking on all comers.
And however beautiful the above might be, they’re not the only reasons why I’ve been posting like I have been. It’s really because we armoured vehicle crewmembers might actually get our own movie this week.
Fury is coming out tonight and I’m damn excited.
Every other branch and service has their signature movies: The Infantry has The Big Red One, Platoon, and The Dirty Dozen. Rangers have Darby, Blackhawk Down and Saving Private Ryan. The Air Assault guys have We Were Soldiers and Apocalypse Now. Marines have Full Metal Jacket and Sands of Iwo Jima. The Airborne have Band of Brothers. EOD has The Hurt Locker. JAGs have A Few Good Men. Acquisition has The Pentagon Wars. Navy pilots have Top Gun. The Medics have MASH. The Special Forces have The Green Berets. Snipers have too many to mention. The Seals have Act of War, Lone Survivor, OOoo! Navy Seals! and a few others I’m forgetting. Intelligence has Battle of Algiers…
Hell even the Civil Affairs have The Monuments Men and AFN has Good Morning Vietnam.
What do we armoured vehicle crewmen have? Nothin, that’s what. Tank? Not a war movie. Battle of the Bulge, Patton? I can’t get past the tanks, and besides they were about campaigns and leaders, not the men. 1941? Hilarious, but it doesn’t focus very long on that most unique of on screen tank sightings, the M3 Grant. The Beast? Burn in Hell, commies. Kelly’s Heroes? Only a keen ear for the subtleties of dialogue would allow you to glean that Big Joe was the platoon sergeant of a mounted reconnaissance platoon. And Oddball was comic relief. Though great, Kelly’s Heroes is not a tanker’s movie. A tanker’s wet dream maybe, but not a tanker’s movie.
That just might change tonight when Fury is released. It’s a Brad Pitt vehicle about the crew of an Easy 8 Sherman named “Fury” in the final days of World War Two. Will it suck? Will it be cheesy? Probably, but I don’t care. I just want to see someone break track on the big screen. If I’m honest, I’m really only going to see it because of the comm’s check in the trailer. It gave me the goose pimples. I might stand behind a tank today and then not shower so everyone around me can get some Smell o’ Vision tonight.
Support your local tanker. Go see Fury. Maybe if it makes enough money we’ll get John Milius to do Team Yankee.
Fire, Fire HEAT.
On the Way.
EDIT: We got our movie.”
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