Stuart & M24 Chaffee
|752nd tankers perform maintenance on an M5 named SNAFU (Situation Normal, All "Fouled" Up). Taken at the 752nd's Armored Training School at Eboli-Campagna, 1944.|
Quite unfortunately, very little is known about the light tanks of the 752nd Tank Battalion. There are two main reasons for this. First, relatively few tankers were assigned to "D" Company, which operated the light tanks. Only 68 men, or 9% of the battalion's total strength crewed in the 17 tanks that comprised "D" Company. In comparison, 295 men, or approximately 39% of the battalion's personnel crewed in the Sherman tanks and assault guns of the Medium and Headquarters companies. As a result, there were far fewer personal photos taken of the light tanks, and far fewer veterans to be found several decades after the war to share those photos.
The second reason for the knowledge gap is that the light tanks of the 752nd spent less time operating in their intended function than did the tanks of the medium "line" companies. "D" Company of the 752nd was not created until the very end of 1943, just as the 752nd was being re-organized and preparing to ship to Italy. Upon arrival in Italy, the men of "D" Company were immediately assigned to the Armored Training School, where they trained new armored recruits in all aspects of armored warfare. "D" Company rejoined the 752nd on 19 January 1945, a full year after the battalion first arrived in Italy. When the company rejoined the rest of the battalion, mobility was very limited, so the light tanks were of little reconnaissance value. In addition, their tiny 37mm guns were of no value in the battalion's primary mission of indirect fire support. As a result, the light tanks tended to be kept quite far behind the rest of the battalion. The M5A1s became more directly involved in combat action following the Po Valley push in Mid-April, but their involvement in direct action lasted only about three weeks to the war's end. The Signal Corps photographers tended to closely follow combat action, and thus there were relatively few "official" photo opportunities for the light tanks of the 752nd.
In 2005, two very significant combat photos of a 752nd M5A1 named U-Go were discovered in the archives of a newspaper office in Northern Italy. These photos were taken by a civilian immediately after the liberation of Cornuda on 30 April 1945, just two days before the end of the war in Italy. The photos suggest that the M5A1s that were used in combat were void of any unique markings, and the use of Allied stars seems either non-existent or so minimal that they do not appear in the photos. An air recognition panel does seem to be in use.
A close examination of the photo revealed the name U-Go stenciled in small letters on the side of the tank. Coincidentally, the author of this website had interviewed a crewmember of U-Go, Walter Lupkes, a few years prior to the discovery of the photos. Mr. Lupkes provided an excellent accounting of his experiences in U-Go during his platoon's daring dash from the Po, and its valiant fight in the liberation of Verona (click this link for my web article and comments from Mr. Lupkes). The Fort Snelling Military Museum Volunteers are in the final stages of beautifully restoring an M5A1 that it has graciously nicknamed U-Go in honor of Mr. Lupkes and the 752nd Tank Battalion. Click here to see photos and technical information about this amazing restoration.
With the acquisition of the new vehicles, it was felt that some instruction should be given to ensure that the "D" company tankers were completely familiar with the equipment. A driving range was set up in the back of the "A" Company sector for instruction and practice. It was necessary to sweep the area for mines before the driving could be done, and instruction went on for the rest of the month within easy range of German artillery. Intelligence reports indicated that the Germans were confused by what must have sounded like large scale tank movements in that area. Strangely enough, however, the area did not draw any fire. Following a brief training period, the light tankers were moved into the lines for additional indirect fire support, and they provided much-welcomed relief to the medium companies which had been in position constantly since the previous October.
On the fifth of April, just a few days after being deployed in firing missions, "D" Company was pulled back from the lines and ordered to turn over its M24s to the 1st Armored Division. The newly received tanks were exchanged for a full compliment of M5A1s. The 752nd's unofficial historical narrative says:
"this was one of the worst jolts the light tankers had taken since they had hit the lines about three months before, and the whole Battalion felt they were getting a really rough deal."This is one of many instances in which the tankers of the 752nd, as well as those in other independent tank battalions, felt slighted by 5th Army brass. Their resentment can still be heard in interviews some 60 years after the fact. More often than not, the resentment is misdirected toward the 1st Armored Division, which always seemed to receive the better equipment as a result of 5th Army Headquarters orders.
Sometime shortly after the war ended, "D" Company once again received a full compliment of M24 Chaffee light tanks. A fair number of photographs of these postwar tanks have surfaced. These photos indicate that a good deal of standardization existed in the markings of these postwar M24s. Proper bumper codes were used. Large tactical numbers were painted in olive drab over a white background, and these appeared on the turret's pistol ports and on the rear of the radio bustle.Allied stars, both with and without circles depending upon time frame, were painted on the front hull, turret sides, the top of the radio bustle, and on the rear deck. Registration numbers were painted on the lower sides of the turret. Tank names, each beginning with the letter "D," were neatly stenciled above the registration number, with the right edge of the tank's name aligned over the right edge of the registration number. (The "D" letter convention did not seem to be strictly followed until the later postwar period). Photos of one tank show the words "Riot Squad" painted on the 75mm gun barrel in addition to the tank's individual name on the turret.