Paratroops vs. Tanks, 1945

C-47_transport_planes_release_hundreds_of_paratroopsThe little-studied and nearly forgotten last airborne operation of World War II, Operation Varsity, eventuated along the Rhine River on March 24, 1945. The participants had no way of knowing it, but they were six weeks from V-E Day and the end of the War in Europe. That end happened for many reasons, in part because the Western Allies forced the Rhine in March. (But had the Allies been held or thrown back, the Germans still would have lost, because the Red Army was coming from the East in any event).

Both sides came to the Rhine fight with Operation Market-Garden in Holland and Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein (called “The Battle of the Bulge” by the Americans in its path) in the Ardennes fresh in mind. One was an Allied fight, one a German, but both were ambitious offensives that fell far short of their goals. The American division that would be tabbed for Operation Varsity,  the 17th Airborne, had come in at the end of the Bulge to hold the cleared salient to Bastogne open, and to push the Germans back. They knew what fighting against German armored counterattacks would be like. The Germans holding their side of the river knew that the Allies had as many as four paratroop and glider divisions opposite them, and they knew just how weakened their units were by the endless meatgrinder of combat (one division was down to 4,000 men, counting walking wounded; that was about what the 17th was short after the Ardennes casualties, but the American unit got replacements).

One thing everybody knew: paratroops were overmatched by tanks. The Germans expected the Allies to land by night and planned to crush them by tanks at first light. The paratroops knew they needed to kill tanks. The problem was: it takes a hard hit by a heavy shot to kill a tank, and things that fired hard-hitting heavy shots tended to be bulky and heavy — not something you could jump out of a C-46 or C-47 with.

In the Ardennes, along Dead Man’s Ridge northwest of Bastogne, a paratroop sergeant named Isidore Jachman had engaged a German tank formation with the only organic AT weapon the airborne infantryman had, the 2.36″ (~60mm) Rocket Launcher (aka Bazooka).

M1-M1A1 2.36 inch bazooka

Jachman engaged two tanks, killing one and forcing a German retreat, but enemy fire killed Jachman, who became, posthumously, 17th’s only Medal of Honor recipient prior to Varsity. His citation:

For heroism January 04, 1945 at Flamierge, Belgium. When his company was pinned down by enemy artillery, mortar, and small arms fire, two hostile tanks attacked the unit, inflicting heavy casualties. Staff Sergeant Jachman, seeing the desperate plight of his comrades, left his place of cover and with total disregard for his own safety dashed across open ground through a hail of fire and seizing a bazooka from a fallen comrade advanced on the tanks, which concentrated their fire on him. Firing the weapon alone, he damaged one and forced both to retire. Staff Sergeant Jachman’s heroic action, in which he suffered fatal wounds, disrupted the entire enemy attack.

57mm and halftrack

57mm and halftrack prime movers.

The AT armament of the paratroops would be carried by gliders. By 1945, the inadequate 37mm gun (called by the British the two-pounder) was retired and the standard gliderborne airborne-unit AT gun was the 57mm, a good weapon for 1941 but hopeless against 1945 main battle tanks; the British users called it the six-pounder. (British and American guns had different carriages but the same tube).

In other American units, the prime mover for the 57mm AT was a half-track or a 1 1/2 ton Dodge 6×6 truck. The glider units had to make do with jeeps as prime movers. Carrying a sufficient ammo supply was a problem, and the gun and the jeep each needed their own Waco or Horsa glider.

An American AT gunner in another unit remembers this weapon:

My platoon was three 57mm Anti-Tank guns. A squad of 10 men for each gun. This gun was a reworked British “6 pounder”, so called because it fired a 6-pound projectile. Our version had good ballistics. A muzzle velocity of about 3000 fpm. It would penetrate 2 inches of armor plate and ricochet with killing velocity about 50 times. It sure didn’t look very impressive. The gunner had to kneel or sit to look though the sight.

A British 6 pounder (57mm) showing the crew's kneeling position.

A British 6 pounder (57mm) showing the crew’s kneeling position.

His crew got a lucky hit on a Panther that let them barrage the tank and drive the crew out of it.

We had gotten our kill!  That hole in their defense had to be covered by adjoining Panthers.  Later a Bazooka team got another one. …  At least we were no longer kidded about our “Little Pea Shooter”.  Most didn’t consider the 57mm much of a weapon.

The 57 had definite limits when engaging modern tanks.  But it was far more accurate and longer-ranged than the bazooka!

British forces had another option. Two batteries that airlanded on Varsity had three troops each with 6-pounders and one with 17-pounders. The 17-pounder was a high velocity 76.2mm weapon. This was, much more than its 6-pounder sibling, an effective AT weapon, but it was a lot bigger — by the time it, and its crew and prime mover were all lined up, it was a 17 thousand  pound logistical nut to crack. They could only deliver these by the gigantic General Aircraft Hamilcar glider. And glider delivery was always risky. Two Glider Pilot Regiment Sergeants, Peter Young and Neville Shaw had one of these heavy guns in a Hamilcar that didn’t get off its departure runway. Young:

Our load was a 15-hundredweight truck and a 17-pounder antitank gun, with a crew of eight soldiers, 70 rounds of ammunition, and spare petrol. The total weight was around 17,800 pounds.

We have the distinction of completing the shortest flight. On take off, the Halifax [tow plane] got into a tangle in the slipstream of the aircraft in front and cast me off. There was no choice but to put down in the overshoot. There was a spare loaded glider, but it was decided not to use this.1

Shoulder patch of the now-forgotten 17th Airborne Division.

Shoulder patch of the now-forgotten 17th
Airborne Division.

In the American forces, there was no formal anti-tank organization, unlike the British unit’s. Instead, the 17th’s 155th Anti-Aircraft Battalion picked up anti-tank duty, and the weapons to go with it. (This may have been because of the weakness of the Luftwaffe by March 1945). Oddly enough, the unit had a mix of British 6-pounders and American 57mm, but since the tubes and ammo were the same, the mixture had no practical effect.

But a new wonder weapon came to the battalion less than two weeks before showtime: the 75mm Recoilless Rifle.

Exactly two of these newfangled gadgets replaced six-pounders, one in each of two batteries. One of the crewmen, Corporal Eugene Howard, remembers:

It looked a lot like a fancy bazooka. It had a 7 foot long rifle barrel mounted on a yoke, with a pin on the bottom of the yoke to fit onto a .50-caliber machine gun tripod. The rifle weighed about 175 pounds and the tripod weighed about 65 pounds.

75mm rifle

M20 RCL sightThe gun was fitted with a new electronic sighting device that made it more accurate than the sight on the 57 mm [recoilless rifle]. In one respect it was like a bazooka: when the gun fired, a blaze of hot gases came out the rear of the gun with an equal force to the projectile coming out the muzzle. It had an effective range of about 1,500 yards.

The jeep was modified to carry the gun. The tripod mount was secured to the floor of the back section of the Jeep. A cradle for the barrel was welded to the front bumper of the jeep. One of the advantages of the gun was that it could be fired from the jeep. It could even be fired with the Jeep moving. Since we did not have to pull the 57-millimeter we would get a jeep trailer to haul ammunition. This meant we could haul more ammunition than we could for the 57-millimeter.2

Howard found the 75mm recoilless rifle worked well. The first time they were called on to use it, they killed a “self-propelled 88” (probably actually a 75mm StuG-III). Then they got the jeep into defilade, and began running the 75 against German vehicles, troops, and even an OP in a church steeple.

But that’s another story. What Howard and his gunner Pete found out was that the 75mm was an effective tank buster, within its limits, and they set a trend in paratroop AT weapons that lasted until the missile age. (Indeed, Russian and Chinese factories still produce much improved, larger caliber lightweight recoilless rifles).


  1. Wright, p. 68.
  2. Wright, p. 9.


Wright, Stephen L. The Last Drop: Operation Varsity, March 24-25, 1945. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

39 thoughts on “Paratroops vs. Tanks, 1945

  1. collimatrix

    According to Hatcher’s Notebook, the recoilless rifle was a big hit in the Pacific theater. It was light enough to move around the rocky Pacific islands the Japanese loved to dig themselves into, and powerful enough to blow up fortifications once it got where it was needed.

    I wonder if the self-propelled 88 carrier was one of these. Who knows though; trying to ID German armor from veterans’ accounts is usually futile. They were a zillion different types and subtypes of big gray metal tracked box.

    I wonder if recoilless rifles will make a comeback in a slightly different guise.

  2. Ray

    The “bazooka” was in fact just as effective than the modern “LAW” rocket, IF THE WAR HEAD FUZED . That was the flaw in the 66MM AT rocket in WW2. 1/3 of all bazooka rockets had defective warheads.(by the Korean war that number had grown to 70%) They simply didn’t go off when they hit the target. The “17 pounder” was useless at ranges greater than 400 yards. When tested by the US Army for use in the M-4A3E6 and M-4A3E8 it was found that the “17 pounder ” was so grossly inaccurate that it couldn’t hit a 12X12 FOOT target at 1000 yards AT ALL, and could only hit the same 12X12 foot target one out of every five shots at 800 yards. The US 76MM HVAT gun chosen for use in the M-4A3 and the “easy six” an “easy 8″‘s could hit the same 12×12 target at 1800 yards 10 out of 10, with the same size shot and the same penetration. The “57” wasn’t that bad a gun Vs. the common tanks of the German Army. The panzer Mk.III and Mk.IV . The “Panther” and “Tiger” only made up about 5% of the total German tank force in the ETO and despite every GI calling every German tank they saw a “tiger,” were seldom seen outside Russia before 1945. Even when encountered they were in no way as formidable as legend has it. By 1944 they were made with defective steel and had piss poor drive train’s. 70% of them broke down before even GETTING into combat. They were slow fixed position gas hogs. The ones that did get to “the front”(and didn’t break down or run out of gas) were mostly killed by “Shermans” , M-10’s or M-18’s.(76MM guns) Tank’s that could and did knock out “Tigers” and “Panthers”.(exactly three Tiger 1’s and MAYBE four “king tigers” during the entire war EVERYTHING ELSE encountered in combat were not “tigers”) AND FYI: The US 76MM AT gun would knock out both the “Tiger” and the “Panther” from any angle. Including the front. The WW2 German army has grown into a Mythic force that never really existed and who’s weapons and ammunition never lived up to the modern hype. It is interesting to note that after WW2 NO ONE , with the exception of France and Jordon, used any of the thousands of captured German tanks for anything but bunkers and NO ONE used the “88” or “Tigers” except France, who dumped all of them before 1953. Because German WW2 tanks sucked.

    1. archy

      *** The “57” wasn’t that bad a gun Vs. the common tanks of the German Army. The panzer Mk.III and Mk.IV .***

      I had the very good fortune of meeting many of the surviving veterans of the war in Europe from D-Day to VE Day, and can tell you that the 57mm M1/M1A1 guns were not at all thought to be such weak AT weapons. They had two other virtues not mentioned in the article: they were easily hauled via the tow pintle found on the common-as-dirt MB and GPW Jeeps, with the gun bouncing merrily along behind and at least a good starting load of ammo piled up in the back sewat area and vertically in the front passenger’s seat; around two dozen AT rounds could be so carried if there was no other front seat passenger, though of course the ideal setup was three jeeps, two towing guns and the third with a 1/4 ton trailer with the ammo.

      And about that ammo, the following afteraction reports on the use of the 57mm gun seem to bear that out:

      2nd U.S. Infantry in the (German) Breakthrough, 38th Infantry:
      “During the course of the action a few noteworthy lessons were learned. Firstly, determined infantry armed with its organic weapons will stop German armor, principally by use of the rocket launcher (Bazooka) and by destroying the attack of the accompanying enemy infantry. Secondly, the 57mm AT gun with normal AP amunition was found to be of such little value that I regard it as a practically useless weapon. With the special “sabot” ammunition in abundance the weapon could be of great assistance in repelling enemy armor. I am, nevertheless, convinced it should be replaced by a self-propelled weapon of greater anti-tank possibilities…” F. H. Boos, Col., Inf., Commanding.

      Also, appended to the 38th Infantry AAR was this “Report of Towed 57mm Guns (AT) in Rocherath-Krinkelt Action:

      “…57mm guns knocked out two Panther….The first round (regular A.P.C.), fired at the side of the turret at about 175 yards riccochetted and had no effect. The second round was a hyper-velocity “Sabot” round and penetrated…I recommend the following changes in basic load:

      Type Present Recommended

      AP or APC 60- 10

      “Sabot” 6- 30

      HE 13- 20

      …I also recommend the development of canister ammunition. We have found the present issue of HE effective…but considering the reports on 37mm canister, 57mm canister would be more effective than HE. /s/ J. W. Love, Captain, 38th Infantry, Comdg, AT Company.”

      I have found more references to both 57mm HE and 57mm Sabot in wartime US unit reports. The 90th Division AAR for August 1944 has a G-4 Summary which mentions 57mm HE (Br.) and 57mm Sabot as being “continually desired” (I imagine for the Sabot!) while “limited quantaties” only were available. So, it appears that the issue HE round was in fact British.

      As for the sources:

      Captain Love’s quotes are from the After Action Report of the 38th Infantry, 2nd Division, dated 5 January 1945, on the actions of December 1944 (engagements at Wahlerscheid, Krinkelt-Rocherath and Elsenborn), Colonel Boos’ quotes are from the combat interviews compiled by theater historians, also in January 1945.

      The source is the US National Archives, specifically the Archives II facility at College Park, MD. They hold the records of the US Army Adjutant Generals Office and the complete set of combat interviews generated by theater historians in World War II. Also, neat stuff like the entire archive of Signal Corps still and motion pictures, microfilm of the German Wehrmacht archives and so on.

      1. Hognose Post author

        The guy I quoted in the story reported running into some Brits and discovering that all they had for their 6-pounders was HE, whereas all HE had wad AP — a very satisfactory trade for all hands was concluded, and shortly thereafter he dealt with sniper in a steeple by blowing the steeple to Kingdom Come (appropriately).

      2. DSM

        After reading through the Army’s history of armor (posted on here some time back) and mention of types of ammunition used it made me start to think when exactly our current saboted penetrator rounds came about. I haven’t had the impetus to research it more but this is quite interesting to read. Thanks archy!

        1. archy

          Don’t *just* research for sabot; see also the other enhanced tank killer of the period, HVAP [high velocity armor piercing]

        2. collimatrix

          They came about incrementally. During WWII the Army started with full caliber AP; essentially big hardened steel bullets. A second, rarer type of armor piercing ammunition, HVAP, or APCR in British parlance existed as well. This was a sub-caliber tungsten carbide core surrounded by aluminum.

          There also existed APCNR, or armor piercing composite non-rigid, as used in Gerlich-type squeezebore guns, but the US never used those to the best of my knowledge, just the Germans and British and even then on a fairly small scale.

          The tail end of the war saw the introduction of discarding sabot rounds, with the British being the leaders. However, these were spin-stabilized discarding sabot rounds, not the fin-stabilized discarding sabot penetrators like the ones used now.

          As Ray mentioned, the early British discarding sabot rounds had some accuracy problems (IIRC it was just the discarding sabot rounds, the 17 pounder was a perfectly accurate gun otherwise). The British quickly up-gunned their centurion tanks from the WWII vintage 17 pounder to the new 20 pounder, which was an absolute stunner of a gun. It used discarding sabot rounds from day 1, and actually bested the old tiger II in terms of armor penetration. The US was slower to adopt discarding sabot ammunition for their guns, holding on to the old HVAP until they developed the M36 90mm gun and its M332A1 APDS.

          Development of discarding sabot rounds slowed for a time because a new and (for a time) much more effective anti-armor round had been developed; High Explosive Anti Tank or HEAT. HEAT, also called Munroe Effect or hollow charge ammunition in older documents uses a shaped charge with a liner to penetrate armor. Most layman’s explanations you’ll find online of how these things work are completely wrong and filled with nonsense. If you’re curious, this presentation is a good start, although sadly the lecture that went with it is not recorded.

          HEAT had existed during WWII, but WWII-vintage HEAT had a lot of problems that weren’t ironed out until the early 1950s. Once they were, HEAT rounds, for a time, seriously altered the armor vs. guns balance. The reason is that a HEAT projectile doesn’t care how fast it’s going when it hits the tank. The acceleration of the penetrating liner is provided by explosives, so even a relatively slow projectile, accelerated say by a shoulder-fired rocket instead of a big gun tube, would penetrate just as well. The apogee of this trend was the 1973 Yom Kippur War where Israeli tanks suffered heavy losses to Egyptian ATGM teams. This is also about the time that people stopped designing anti-tank field guns and recoilless rifles; ATGMs are much easier to haul around. The Warsaw Pact kept their RRs and their field guns for much longer, however.

          But it wasn’t long before the pendulum would swing the other way. Work was already underway in the late 1950s on both sides of the iron curtain to develop new types of armor that could resist HEAT rounds. The Soviets deployed their first tank with HEAT-resistant composite armor, the T-64, in the late 1960s, and by the late 1970s NATO had deployed theirs (early versions of the Abrams and Leopard 2).

          This led to renewed interest in kinetic energy rounds, because composites that are good at resisting HEAT jets are not necessarily good at resisting supersonic chunks of tungsten.

          The next advance was to make the projectiles longer and skinnier, so they could concentrate their force of impact over a smaller area, and also so that they could be more aerodynamic. Problem was, the spin-stabilized armor piercing discarding sabot projectiles were about as long and skinny as they possibly could be and still be spin-stabilized. So they had to start putting fins on the things. Since the rifling was now superfluous, the guns could be smoothbore.

          Except on the British Challenger 2, which has a rifled gun for some unfathomable reason, all NATO tanks use the same Rheinmetall-designed 120mm smoothbore gun. Warsaw Pact tanks have been smoothbore since the T-62, which debuted in 1961 with a 115mm gun. Later Soviet tanks and current Russian tanks have a 125mm smoothbore gun. Chinese tanks appear to be a mix of rifled and smoothbore, using both clones of Russian 125mm guns and modified, souped-up clones of the older NATO 105mm rifled design.

          And that’s how things got to where they are now.

          1. S

            Excellent writeup, collimatrix!

            The Brits have preferred rifled guns because they are enamoured of HESH: High Explosive Squash Head, which isn’t intended to penetrate but blast a scab of armour off the inside.

  3. Aesop

    Amazing how one year of combat trumps 5 years of theory and research. Fascinating history.

    Pity they had neither the ONTOS then, nor the capability to bring it into battle with the airborne.
    A RR jeep ‘n trailer rig isn’t a bad interim solution though.

    1. archy

      The TO&E for some tank units of the period had three companies of Sherman medium tanks, plus a *D company* of light M5s, useful in the cavalry role for screening, for route recon and infantry support, less thirsty for fuel than a Sherman, and in several other ways not as bad an idea as it might seem- right up to the point that you came up against a real heavy: a Tiger or Panther, or worse, a Tiger or Panther-based *jagdtiger* or *jagdpanther* tank destroyer. The other thing the guys in the lights were surprisingly bothered by was enemy armored cars, fast enough to evade, resistant to co-ax machinegun fire and often used as mobile forward artillery spotting points. Particularly at night, the armored cars could be a particular headache.

      One 70th Armor D Company vet I spoke with at length noted that one answer to that problem was a tank commander with a fast response with the .50 Browning MG, since once the M5s 37mm main gun let off there wasn’t any doubt about what or where they were, but since the Shermans also carried a .50 as a roof gun, it gave the armored car crews a good excuse to get vou of the area, but fast.

      Their other trick: wire and strap a M1 2.36″ bazooka under the barrel of the main gun, and wire it to the driver’s horn button. If the other people opened up first, it was one heckuva flash and bang on the way out, with very likely good results if it hit anything. In the days in the hedgerow and brush country of France and Belgium, more distant meetings were less common. But as things went on, that came to change.

      By that time Tank Destroyer and Cav units got some heavier 3-inch and 90mm TDs, and M8 Ford *Greyhound*armored cars of their own, with .50 caliber MGs on the roof and a 37mm main gun in the turret. The 37mm gun wasn’t nearly as bad of a popgun as it sometimes seemed, but I bet having a 57mm/6-pounder in the turret would have been thought an improvement.

    2. Boat Guy

      Dunno bout Ontos. I think I’d druther have six RR jeeps towing trailers of ammo. As with most SP’s the “prime mover” part of the ensemble brings the most headaches and down-time; guns’re simple; tracks and such require more work.

      1. Aesop

        Which requires six separate lifts, and three to six times the manpower and log train.
        In warfare, just as in many other things, simplicity is elegance.

  4. Boat Guy

    Canister is always a GOOD IDEA in my opinion.
    I note the resurgence of our soegennant 106mm RR in our current war.

  5. Ti

    I want an M-29 Davey Crocket for tank busting….. take out the whole battallion in one shot.

      1. Scipio Americanus

        The danger to the crew has been greatly exaggerated. The Davy Crockett’s range was around 2 km, but the lethal radius of it’s warhead was only 500 m. The blast portion of the yield was equivalent to several tons of TNT, but the inaccuracy of the weapon meant that it had to rely on radiation to do most of the killing. The crew would have certainly caught a dose, but even if the blast had a line-of-sight path to them it still probably wouldn’t have been a dangerous one.

        1. DSM

          Probably…if there was terrain in the way, the winds were right and they could displace fast enough to avoid fallout. Vehicle mounted would have been better instead of the dismounted tripod rig you see on the history shows.

      2. archy

        It’s a bad day at the office when you duck down in your foxhole to avoid the heat/shockwave radiation, and when it hits, you see your jeep and launcher flying back over your hole.

        1. Kirk

          Lemme tell you about the idiocy of suggesting the solution of “digging in” your crews for things like Davy Crockett and the MICLIC. It ain’t happening, holmes.

          I served in an Engineer unit sans armor of any kind, for years. Nobody ever, to my sure and certain knowledge, solved the issue of “Gee, how the f**k do we make this work…?” with the MICLIC, because you really, really don’t want to be firing that thing unless you’re under cover. And, if you don’t haul your cover around with you, in the form of an armored vehicle of some sort…? Yeah. Actually, no… Hell no.

          Tactically, about the only thing you can really do is pray to God there’s some handy culvert or something near where you need to fire your weapon from, because the odds that the enemy will either not notice your (unlikely to be so…) surreptitious digging in of a foxhole for the crew, and/or the other option of doing so as you go to fire the weapon (leading to spending several hours at the firing point, with all that implies for someone to notice what you’re up to…)? Yeah, ain’t none of that working in a sane world where the enemy isn’t dumb as a rock, as well as deaf, dumb, and blind.

          Leaving aside, also, that the MICLIC really doesn’t work worth shit in the first place, the mechanism being entirely bogus, and that it was optimized not for clearing explosives or mines, but for clearing beach obstacles like hedgehogs and other things… Wellllll… I personally think the best thing they’re usable for by light units is as improvised anti-personnel mines. I always wanted to take mine out of the tub, lay it out in the ditch alongside a road, liberally scatter all those useless f**king nails from the short pioneer box on top, camouflage it, and then detonate the damn thing when the enemy came marching by… Seemed like the most productive use for one of those f**king useless things, anywah.

          1. KenWats

            I thought I remember seeing the 14th guys running around with MICLICs behind their 5-tons, no? I remember admiring that, in a “more balls than brains” sortta way.

          2. Kirk

            LOL… I was one of “those guys”. Frankly, none of us ever figured out what the f**k we were supposed to do with those things. I mean, we fired them, but in set-piece scenarios where we had dug in positions right next to where the firing point was, and the whole thing was very carefully “not thought about”. In the event, I think what happened was that we took them to Iraq with us, and then either handed the trailers off, all prepped, to the guys we were supporting, or we borrowed armor to fire them from. All in all, not a very elegant solution.

            The MICLIC is a device we never should have procured, period. It doesn’t work, never did work, and the continued use of it is kinda wonky. The actual system that won the testing phase, and which we should have bought was the British Giant Viper, but Not Invented Here, and the influence of the contractor won the day. Root problem with the MICLIC is that a.) most modern mines aren’t susceptible to blast overpressure triggering their fuzes, and even older Soviet mines aren’t, because they don’t use Belleville washers in their fuzes, and that b.) the line charge itself is too damn big and heavy, as it was optimized for clearing obstacles in the surf zone of beaches. This is why it’s so short–You get less than a hundred meters out of each MICLIC shot, and the average depth of a Soviet-doctrine minefield is…? Yeah. 300m. So, you’re gonna have to fire a MICLIC, drive your second system into the breach created, fire another, then do the same two more times, on average. D’ya think that might maybe draw some attention? Not to mention, expend every f**king MICLIC load in your task force? For one breach?

            Meanwhile, the Brits have Giant Viper, which has a much lighter line charge, and does 300m at a whack. And, is designed so you can hook up multiple trailers like some kinda explosive mine-clearing human centipede, and only expose one vehicle to the enemy during your worst-case two-shot breach.

            I am not a fan of the MICLIC. At all. Let us not even consider the low reliability of the f**king Rube Goldbergesque system itself, or the fact that the use of the MICLIC in Desert Storm left a metric shitload of undetonated mines that were then scraped into nice, neat piles by the mine rakes used to proof the lanes…

            When I was on active duty, I read this cute little article in the New York Times, about the post-war mine clearing work in Kuwait. In it, the obviously non-military author made mention of a bunch of stuff he learned from one of the contractors, one Floyd D. Rockwell, a man who’d been EOD in Vietnam, and who was the lead for the company clearing the American sector in Kuwait. I spent a day or so, pre-internet, trying to trace this guy down, because he’d raised a shit-load of questions about things with me about issues with what he was describing about our new AN/PSS-12 mine detector built by Scheibel in Austria. So, I found him, called him, and spent about three hours on the phone learning from him. One of the key takeaways? MICLIC don’t f**king work. Every shot we did over there represented an extra hundred thousand dollars worth of work for his guys, because they were now having to clear sensitized mines that had been moved, and which were horribly prone to going “BOOM” unexpectedly. He’d lost two techs on mines in those lanes, and not one bit of that information ever made it forth into US Army practice or standards.

            Oh, yeah–Everything I learned from him, I wrote up and sent up to the Engineer school, suggesting strongly that someone ought to look into it. Included in that work was my proposed training plan for the detector operators, which included a proposed mine training range. That was ignored, from 1993 until late in 2001-ish, when someone with a f**king Ph.D up at the Engineer School apparently reinvented the wheel, and figured out that the Floyd Rockwell technique for the AN/PSS-12 actually, y’know, worked. We went from the ineffective BS we’d been doing to exactly what I’d proposed some 8 years earlier, and which had vanished into the maw of the schoolhouse. Interestingly, the diagrams for the training range? Yeah, the ones I’d drawn up? They were in the safety-of-use message, attributed to the Ph.D. I called them on it, and, of course, they denied that anything I’d submitted had even been retained, or that his work (which relied heavily on interrogating Floyd Rockwell himself) had anything to do with what I’d already submitted.

            The Army is, in a lot of fundamental ways, broken. People like me were begging them, for years, to look into the South African mine-proof vehicles and the armored route clearance gear. The schoolhouse wouldn’t do it. I wanted to send our guys to the Canadian Forces humanitarian demining courses up at Kelowna. Wouldn’t do it. And, the excuse was “Well, if we have the capability, someone will expect us to do it… And, we don’t want that mission…”.

            Sweetheart, it doesn’t matter what you “want”; the fact is, the world will make you do it, whether or not you want to, and whether or not you’ve bothered to prepare for it. I don’t know how many bodies are on that tag, for not having prepared properly for the IED campaigns of the post-Iraq invasion period, and I don’t want to–But, I know for a fact that there are more than just a couple of people whose lives were ended or severely affected because we weren’t ready for shit that was foreseen, and warned against.

          3. DSM

            Have been reading off an on a collection of stories of post-04 Iraq operations on the Army history site. Tip of the Spear I think it is called. An engineer unit had been attached to one effort or another and had used a MICLIC to clear out a row of buildings they had been receiving fire from. Essentially it read as that’s what they had and it seemed to work.

          4. Kirk


            Well, you drive around a combat zone with 2,000lbs of C4 behind you, you kinda wanta see what it can do, y’know?

            Aside from that, the damn things are ‘effing useless at their stated design purpose, because unless you manage to get direct contact with the mine or IED, all you’re likely to accomplish by firing one is to sensitize the munition. I’m really super-leary of using them, to be honest–I had to clear too many misfires while an Observer/Controller at the NTC to really have much in the way of faith in the damn things. As well, having had that enlightening chat with Floyd Rockwell, I’m rather dubious of the idea that they really do you any good–Sure, they’ll set off tripwired stuff, and may disrupt some badly set up IED initiation chains, but… Jeez, man, that’s a huge-ass bang to do that with, and for minimal real effect.

            In the end, the MICLIC has to be recognized for what it is, and what it was meant to do: Clear the surf zone on a beach of obstacles. It’s optimized for that, and should have been left doing that mission, instead of trying to shoehorn the damn thing into something it’s entirely unsuited for. Every time I see one of these things set off in Afghanistan or Iraq, I have to wonder whether the shot was intended to target actual explosive devices, or was really a morale-booster for our guys who are about to have to go in and do things for real. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a successful one of these where they managed to predetonate an IED with one, and I do know for a certain fact that a lot of the Italian Valsella-type mines are not at all vulnerable to being detonated by one.

            Honestly, left to my own devices? I’d use the damn thing as a ready source of C4, and probably never fire one as intended. You need to breach a minefield? Well, sadly, you’re much better off bypassing it. If you can’t, then you might want to rethink your entire concept of operations, because you’re now taking tanks and other armor into terrain where they’re going to be operating under clear restrictions on movement, and you’d be better off using light infantry there in the first place. The MICLIC is a tool that’s been put to a purpose it isn’t really suited for, and never should have been procured in the numbers it has been.

            Honestly, it’s kind of a crock–And, an example of just how bad we’ve gotten at combat engineering for modern mechanized war. If you stand back and look at the MTOE, the supply chain, and the way this thing works, you start to realize that there are a lot of really poorly-conceived assumptions built into the whole thing.

            Case in point–Normally, the MICLIC comes with a max of two systems on a converted-over AVLB chassis. There may, if you’re lucky, be two of those to a company supporting a battalion task force. In the trains, you might have what, maybe a single reload for each system, and it takes damn near two-three hours to reload, when performed by a proficient crew. So, four systems with four reloads in a task force. That is potentially (on a very good day…) two breach lanes emplaced, separated by several hours for prepping the second set of shots. How many breaches do you doctrinally want, for a task force, again? One for each company team, right? Hmmmm… Our math ain’t working, is it?

            The maneuver bubbas have been shortchanging the Engineer side of the house since before D-Day. Hobart offered the US access to the designs and production facilities for the “funnies” he used to such great effect on the British beaches, and we turned him down. They didn’t want to lose the chassis they’d have to give up, and so we relied on manpower to do a lot of the clearing on our beaches. My old battalion, the 299th Engineers, pretty much ceased to exist the morning of June 6, 1944, as they tried to clear the obstacles on Omaha and other beaches. Ironically, that’s just what a MICLIC is designed to do…

            The US Army has a problem with things, when it comes to the Engineer side of the house–There’s way too much emphasis on the civil side of things, because our best and brightest wind up going off to the civilian-focused Army Corps of Engineers, and the not-so-bright lights wind up staying focused on the tactical side, where they do abysmally at fighting for budget resources. The POS M9 ACE, the “Army Combat Earthmover” was something that was identified as a need in post-WWII after-actions reviews. Wasn’t actually procured until sometime in the 1980s, and fielded in quantity during the early ’90s. That’s nearly 50 years from identified need to actualized fielding, and that’s been the story of the Engineer branch tactical side since I don’t know when. If it wasn’t for the Brits and South Africans, we’d probably be wandering around the battlefield on foot using rocks and sticks, because most of our engineer equipment that is combat-specific hasn’t been developed by our guys, at all–No money, no mindshare, no gear. Price paid? You tell me–I don’t even want to know. I do know that it’s absolutely ‘effing tragicomically ridiculous that the MRAP-style vehicles we use today were not invented and developed by the US in the Vietnam War, but were cobbled together by the Rhodesians and South Africans while they were under sanctions. We, the vaunted US Army, most technologically advanced army in the world, had our guys operating under a far more lethal threat during the Vietnam War, and the best we could come up with to counter IED and mines on roads were… Wait for it… Guys on foot with mine detectors, walking ahead of trucks that were sandbagged. And, we were no better prepared for the IED campaign in 2003, when we went into Iraq. Despite a bunch of obvious evidence, and a lot of people telling the “system” that we needed to up our game in this arena.

            Jesus wept… I mean, what the hell, people? I’m not the smartest guy in the world, and I could see that crap coming from as far back as 1986. Why were we so poorly prepared, and in a lot of ways, still are?

    1. Kirk

      My take on the Davy Crockett was that it was a propaganda weapon, pure and simple.

      Firstly, the odds of being able to run a jeep crew around a modern battlefield, which would then set up and fire the Davy Crockett at some suitable target…? Yeah, think about that for a minute: The enemy is going to know you have these things, and then the next thing that happens is that they’re a.) going to disperse, big time, and b.) set out security everywhere around where they have to concentrate, that security is going to take a lot of notice when somebody bumbles up in a jeep and starts unloading this bloody great warhead/recoilless rifle combination.

      In short, I don’t think it was a tactically usable weapon. Looked good on paper, but… How the hell are you going to use it? Anybody making an attack on your forces is just going to diffuse the forces, and spend a lot of time scouting for your Davy Crockett teams. The other option is just to blitz through with multiple echelons of attackers, with the things like the BMP-equipped MRDs.

      Actually, now that I think about it, the BMP was probably the Soviet counter-response to the Davy Crockett, anyway–One which we later copied, much to the detriment of our infantry forces. Ah, well… It’s all interlocking idiocies, all the way down.

  6. Cannoneer No. 4

    It ain’t no fun being shot at by a Type 75 105mm recoilless. They don’t seem to defeat Alaska barriers, but they are hell on generators and Toyota Hiace 15-passenger vans. Getting hit by mortars and rockets is mostly bad luck, but getting hit by a recoilless is malicious marksmanship.

  7. MattB

    Just a minor nitpick, the British 2-pounder was a 40mm British designed and used weapon, no relation at all to the American 37mm. Fairly similar performance though.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Quite right. I dunno why I thought it was the same, except I’m pretty sure they did use our 37 in the Western Desert. But they were using everything including captured Italian pieces. Anthony Williams has a deep but confusing article on British 37-40mm guns on his web page.

  8. Keith

    I have a pdf of the development of HEAT if anybody wants it. I don’t know how to post it here. I’d be interested on thoughts and comments on it.

        1. Hognose Post author

          Keith — there’s no website left at, it’s just an email server (kind of like Hillary’s but without any national secrets or love letters from a moslem Brotherhood girlfriend).

          1. Keith

            Just to confirm and ty for your patience do I just copy and past to my email server as the destination?

  9. DB

    Iran manufactures a copy of the M40 106mm recoilless, and they’ve sent large numbers to Hezbollah in Lebanon (not Syria). The question was why, since it would be a paint-scratcher against the Israeli Merkava tanks, and the Israeli Namer APC is a Merkava without a turret. The answer seems to be that the 106 has pretty good standoff range, and multiple shots would be a cheap way to strip away the Merkava’s Trophy active protection system, leaving the tank wide open to a follow-up ATGM shot. Everything old is new again.

    1. David

      According to Wikipedia, certain 106mm ammo has armor penetration of ~700mm. Even against a Merkava, that is beyond paint scratching.

  10. Greg

    Rheinmetall debuted its 130mm tank gun at Eurosatory last week. That’ll be an interesting one to watch.

  11. Mike

    In late 2002, I was working with an ODA that had captured a serviceable 75mm RR and ammunition. I can’t recall at the moment whether it was an American M20, or a Chinese copy.

    It still worked admirably, and did impressive damage to what was left of a BTR-60 when we took it out for a test fire.

    We used it operationally after we confirmed it worked and conducted some crew training.

    Army rifle platoons just got the M3 Carl Gustav RR cleared to become an MTOE item; I’d like to see something like the 75mm RR make a comeback at the company level. There are a lot of things on the battlefield that don’t need a Javelin or TOW and are too far away for the Goose, while waiting for clearance for indirect fires can take a lifetime when in contact. The 75 could hit an Afghan house or grapehut with some serious authority.

    1. Kirk

      If we’ve got the Carl Gustav, why would you need a 75mm RR? Aren’t those still using the older perforated cartridge case, vs. the blowout base of the Carl Gustav?

      I’m not really seeing the advantage of an M20, unless it would be the tripod mount–Which should be doable with the Carl Gustav, and be able to use the same ammo.

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