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In 1965 the large, loud, and highly visible tanks of 3rd Platoon, B Company, 3rd Tank Battalion landed across a beach near Da Nang, drawing unwelcome attention to America's first, almost covert, commitment of ground troops in South Vietnam. As the Marine Corps presence grew inexorably, the 1st and 3rd Tank Battalions, as well as elements of the reactivated 5th Tank Battalion, were committed to the conflict. For the United States Marine Corps, the protracted and bloody struggle was marked by controversy, but for Marine Corps tankers it was marked by bitter frustration as they saw their own high levels of command turn their backs on some of the hardest-won lessons of tank-infantry cooperation learned in the Pacific War and in Korea. Nevertheless, like good Marines, the officers and enlisted men of the tank battalions sought out the enemy in the sand dunes, jungles, mountains, paddy fields, tiny villages, and ancient cities of Vietnam. Young Marine tankers fresh out of training, and cynical veterans of the Pacific War and Korea, battled two enemies. The battle-hardened Viet Cong were masters of the art of striking hard, then slipping away to fight another day. The highly motivated troops of the North Vietnamese Army, equipped with long-range artillery and able to flee across nearby borders into sanctuaries where the Marines were forbidden to follow, engaged the Marines in brutal conventional combat. Both foes were equipped with modern anti-tank weapons, and sought out the tanks as valuable symbolic targets. It was a brutal and schizophrenic war, with no front and no rear, absolutely no respite from constant danger, against a merciless foe hidden among a helpless civilian population. Some of the duties the tankers were called upon to perform were long familiar, as they provided firepower and mobility for the suffering infantry in a never-ending succession of search and destroy operations, conducted amphibious landings, and added their heavy guns to the artillery in fire support missions. Under constant threat of ambushes and huge command-detonated mines that could obliterate both tank and crew in an instant, the tankers escorted vital supply convoys, and guarded the engineers who built and maintained the roads. In their "spare time" the tankers guarded lonely bridges and isolated outposts for weeks on end, patrolled on foot to seek out the Viet Cong, operated roadblocks and ambushes, shot up boats to interdict the enemy's supply lines, and worked in the villages and hamlets to better the lives of the brutalized civilians. To the bitter end--despite the harsh conditions of climate and terrain, confusion, endless savage and debilitating combat, and ultimate frustration as their own nation turned against the war--the Marine tankers routinely demonstrated the versatility, dedication to duty, and matchless courage that Americans have come to expect of their Marines.
In May 1943, a self-described "really young, green, ignorant lieutenant" assumed command of a new US Marine Corps company. His even younger enlisted Marines were learning to use an untested weapon, the M4A2 "Sherman" medium tank. His sole combat veteran was the company bugler, who had salvaged his dress cap and battered horn from a sinking aircraft carrier. Just six months later, the company would be thrown into one of the ghastliest battles of World War II. On November 20, 1943 the 2nd Marine Division launched the first amphibious assault of the Pacific War, directly into the teeth of powerful Japanese defenses on Tarawa. In that blood-soaked invasion, a single company of Sherman tanks, of which only two survived, played a pivotal role in turning the tide from looming disaster to legendary victory. In this unique study, Oscar E. Gilbert and Romain V. Cansiere use official documents, memoirs, and interviews with veterans, as well as personal and aerial photographs, to follow Charlie Company from its formation, and trace the movement, action--and loss--of individual tanks in this horrific 4-day struggle. The authors follow the company from training through the brutal 76-hour struggle for Tarawa. Survivor accounts and air-photo analyses document the movements--and destruction--of the company's individual tanks. It is a story of escapes from drowning tanks, and even more harrowing extrications from tanks knocked out behind Japanese lines. It is a story of men doing whatever needed to be done, from burying the dead to hand-carrying heavy cannon ammunition forward under fire. It is the story of how the two surviving tanks and their crews expanded a perilously thin beachhead and cleared the way for critical reinforcements to come ashore. But most of all, it is a story of how a few unsung Marines helped turn near disaster into epic victory.
By 1960, following Korea, tanks and their crews had proved themselves to be a fundamental part of the Marine Corps' combined arms team. When the Marines were ordered to Vietnam in 1965, they took their tanks with them. This book explores this decision, which created a political storm. The presence of the tanks became a lightning rod for accusations of an 'escalation' of the war. Nevertheless, the tanks not only proved their value in the anti-guerrilla campaigns, but also amid the bitter conventional fighting and extraordinary casualties at Hue City. The ability to undertake such radical change and to prevail demonstrated the versatility, courage and tenacity that are the hallmarks of the 'ordinary' Marine.
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