Tanks of The United States - World Wars - Post-World War I

Post-World War I

After the end of the conflict, the U.S. Army was reorganized. In 1919, Pershing recommended to a joint session of the Senate and House Committee on Military Affairs that the tank be subordinated to the infantry. As a result, the 1920 National Defense Act disbanded the unit and reassigned its tanks to the infantry branch, with only two heavy and four light battalions escaping post-war demobilization.

The Tank Mark VIII or Liberty was an Anglo-American tank design of the First World War but it didn't see combat as testing was finished after the war and it was decided to build 100 vehicles in the USA; these were constructed in 1919 and 1920. The American Liberty tanks equipped a single unit: the 67th Infantry (Tank) Regiment, based in Aberdeen, Maryland. The curious designation of the unit had its origin in the fact that since 1922 by law all tanks had to be part of the Infantry. Some Liberty tanks were assigned to the 301st Tank Battalion (Heavy), later redesignated the 17th Tank Battalion (Heavy). Throughout most of 1921–1922, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded this unit.

Although the tank of World War I was slow, clumsy, unwieldy, difficult to control, and mechanically unreliable, its value as a combat weapon had been clearly proven. In addition to the light and heavy categories of American-produced tanks of World War I, a third classification, the medium, began receiving attention in 1919. The meaning of the terms light, medium, and heavy tanks changed between the wars. During World War I and immediately thereafter, the light tank was considered to be up to 10 tons, the medium (produced by the British) was roughly between 10 and 25 tons, and the heavy was over 25 tons. Later in World War II, increased weights resulted in the light tank being over 20 tons, the medium over 30, and the heavy, developed toward the end of the war, over 60 tons.

It is interesting to note that both Patton and Eisenhower remained involved in developing the armored arm, which found a temporary home at Camp Meade under Rockenbach's command. In particular, the two men formulated theory and doctrine for the use of tanks in mass formations to achieve breakthroughs and carry out exploitation. They met vigorous opposition to their ideas from senior army officers who favored the use of armor in support of infantry and not as a separate arm conducting independent operations. Congress took this view as well, when enacting the 1920 legislation that dissolved the Tank Corps as a separate entity.

The National Defense Act of 1920 placed the Tank Corps under the Infantry. Patton had argued for an independent Tank Corps, and understood that tanks operating with Cavalry would stress mobility, while tanks tied to the Infantry would emphasize firepower. However, the supply of slow World War I tanks and the subordination of tanks to the infantry branch impeded the development of any role other than direct infantry support, so United States moved slowly in the development of armored and mechanized forces. Not incidentally, funding for tank research and development was also cut to a bare minimum. Patton, convinced there was no future in tanks, applied and received a transfer to the cavalry in September, 1920. Eisenhower got out two years later, in January 1922, when he was assigned to the staff of an infantry brigade in Panama.

The US War Department considered that two types of tanks, the light and the medium, should fulfill all missions. The light tank was to be truck transportable and not exceed 5 tons gross weight and for the medium, restrictions were even more stringent; its weight was not to exceed 15 tons, so as to bring it within the weight capacity of railroad flatcars. Although an experimental 15-ton tank, the M1924, reached the mock-up stage, this and other attempts to satisfy War Department and infantry specifications proved to be unsatisfactory. In reality it was simply impossible to build a 15-ton vehicle meeting both War Department and infantry requirements.

In 1926 the General Staff reluctantly consented to the development of a 23-ton tank, although it made clear that efforts were to continue toward the production of a satisfactory 15-ton vehicle. The infantry decided, too, that a light tank, transportable by truck, best met infantry requirements. The net effect of the infantry's preoccupation with light tanks and the limited funds available for tank development in general was to slow the development of heavier vehicles and, ultimately, to contribute to the serious shortage of mediums at the outbreak of World War II.

In the United States the real beginning of the Armored Force was in 1928, twelve years before it was officially established, when Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis directed that a tank force be developed in the Army, after observing the maneuvers in England, by the British Experimental Armored Force. Secretary Davis' 1928 directive for the development of a tank force resulted in the assembly and encampment of an experimental mechanized force at Camp Meade, Maryland, from 1 July to 20 September 1928. The combined arms team consisted of elements furnished by Infantry (including tanks), Cavalry, Field Artillery, the Air Corps, Engineer Corps, Ordnance Department, Chemical Warfare Service, and Medical Corps. An effort to continue the experiment in 1929 was defeated by insufficient funds and obsolete equipment, but the 1928 exercise did bear fruit, for the War Department Mechanization Board, appointed to study results of the experiment, recommended the permanent establishment of a mechanized force.

Despite inadequate funding, the Ordnance Department managed to develop several experimental light and medium tanks and also worked with J. Walter Christie the innovative designer of tanks, engines and propulsion systems to test a Christie design model by 1929. None of these tanks was accepted, usually because each of them exceeded standards set by other Army branches. Patton later worked closely with J. Walter Christie to improve the silhouette, suspension, power, and weapons of tanks. The Christie ideas had great impact upon tank tactics and unit organization in many countries and, finally, upon the US Army as well.

Another general who rose to fame in World War II, whose influence on the tanks of the army was felt, came from the top. On November 21, 1930 Douglas MacArthur had been made Chief of Staff, with the rank of general. As Chief of Staff from 1930 to 1935, Douglas MacArthur wanted to advance motorization and mechanization throughout the army. In late 1931 all arms and services were directed to adopt mechanization and motorization, and were permitted to conduct research and to experiment as necessary. Cavalry was given the task of developing combat vehicles that would enhance it role of reconnaissance, counterreconnaissance, flank action, pursuit.

By the law passed, tanks belonged to the infantry branch, so the cavalry gradually bought a group of "combat cars," lightly armored and armed tanks that were often indistinguishable from the newer infantry, "tanks." In 1933 MacArthur set the stage for the coming complete mechanization of the cavalry, noting the horse was obsolete declaring, "The horse has no higher degree of mobility today than he had a thousand years ago. The time has therefore arrived when the Cavalry arm must either replace or assist the horse as a means of transportation, or else pass into the limbo of discarded military formations."

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