Our post on MREs has brought commments from one of our readers across the pond. Our British cousins have a ration very similar in nature to our MRE. The British, being British, have to do things their own way. I could do a long post on the development of the British Operational Ration, with menus and whatnot, or I can just link this.
No, we aren’t going to drop a 70-ton M-1A1 tank using parachutes. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had airborne tanks. I wouldn’t call any of them huge successes, but our main topic today, the M551 Sheridan wasn’t a complete flop, either.
Airborne forces got their start in WWII. We’ve all seen the movies of paratroopers jumping into Normandy. One problem they had was a shortage of ways to defeat German armor and take out targets like bunkers and pillboxes. The bazooka went a ways toward this, but a tank would help a lot. The US and the British developed a very light tank called the M22 Locust that could be landed by glider or transported by plane. Arriving in service too late to see combat in WWII, it was also badly undergunned.
After WWII, the Army still tried to come up with lightweight tank for the airborne forces, but had little success. To have any success defeating armor meant a bigger gun. A bigger gun meant a heavier vehicle, and heavier vehicles couldn’t be airdropped. That was pretty much the state of affairs until missile technology entered the picture.
Instead of using a solid shot to penetrate enemy armor, the plan was to use High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) rounds. These use a warhead that focuses the explosion to “burn through” enemy armor. The velocity of the round doesn’t matter to the penetration. The effectiveness of a HEAT round is directly related to the diamater of the warhead. The larger the better. But that takes us back to the problem of weight. The solution was to sacrifice muzzle velocity and accept a slow flying round, since the velocity on impact didn’t matter. This made the gun effective at short ranges. Unfortunately, the problem of long range defense against tanks was still there. The Army solved this by using the same gun as a launcher for a guided missle. After a protracted (and not terribly successful) development, the gun and missile combination was finalized. The gun was a 152mm bore (about 6″) that could fire HEAT rounds for short ranges, and the MGM-51 Shillelagh guided missile.
The gun/missile combination was mated to a lightweight, aluminum hull (or chassis, if you will) that was capable of both being airdropped from a C-130 and of swimming. Production started in 1966 and vehicles soon began to equip the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam, and other units soon thereafter.
While the system worked to some extent, most of the users weren’t very happy with it. The aluminum armor was easily penetrated, and vulnerable to mines. The Sheridan was also prone to breakdowns. By the mid-70s, most Cavalry units had phased it out. The 82nd Airborne Division, however, had nothing to replace it and so held on to theirs until 1996. The 82nd actually airdropped eight of them during the invasion of Panama, and deployed 51 of them to Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
By the late 1970s, the Army had several hundred relatively new, but obsolete Sheridans on its hands. It had also just opened the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, near Barstow, CA, and needed lots of armor to simulate a Soviet regiment attacking across Western Europe. Many Sheridans were modified with sheet metal and fiberglass to give them a distinctive, somewhat Soviet look to play this part. They served very honorably in this role until 2003 when they were replaced by highly modified M-113s.
Because there were few enemy tanks in Vietnam, and the recoil of HEAT rounds tended to damage electronics on board, Sheridans deployed to Vietnam had their missile guidance packages removed. In addition to the HEAT round, they carried a cannister anti personnel round. You’ve seen a shotgun shell before. Now imagine one six inches across and about 2 1/2 feet long. This was a fearsome weapon when the VC or NVA attacked Sheridan units.
I left a comment over at Pajama Momma’s place that went right over her head:
25th ID, 1st AD, 4th ID.
Like just about every other job, the Army has its own jargon. Lots and lots of it. Virtually everything in the Army is reduced to jargon and incomprehensible to outsiders. I’ve tried hard not to use “MilSpeak” here because the whole point is to help civilians understand just what their Army is and does.
The comment I left at PJ’s was a resume, if you will. In shorthand. My first duty assignment after basic training was with the 25th Infantry Division, in Schofield Barraks, HI. After leaving the Army and going to college for a couple of (miserable) years, I rejoined and was assigned to the 1st Armored Division, headquartered in Ansbach, Germany (Armored Divisions have four battalions of infantry). Following that tour, I made a PCS (permanent change of station) to the 4th Infantry Division, in Fort Carson, CO, just next to the lovely town of Colorado Springs.
Now, I could have written it all out like this, but the shorthand conveys most of the information to anyone who would care. It’s enough background to play the old Army game of “who do you know”.
I’m drafting a post on how units are designated and how to translate that so you know where it is that your son/daughter, cousin, buddy, whomever is assigned. Of course, if you have any questions, just let me know.
There’s a discussion over at Lex’s place about transitioning to civilian life, and some of the habits that carry over, such as looking for your cover when entering or leaving a building. Even nine years after leaving the service, I do it. And yes, I carry everything in my left hand so my right hand is free to salute.
The comments evolve into military courtesy for the flag and for courtesy in general.
The toughest guy I ever worked for in the Army was 1SG Charlie Ball. He was very much a stickler for military courtesy. In the Army, when an NCO addresses you, you stand and come to the position of parade rest. If “Hardball” didn’t think you were showing the proper courtesy to an NCO, he would quickly resort to “kinetic counseling”. On the other hand, what really made the point that it was important was that he returned the courtesy. He would stand as well, at (a modified) parade rest and just as you were expected to address him as “First Sergeant”, he would address you by your title as well. Leadership by example, there.