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Basketcase - My Second Love, Part 1.
I was transferred to B Company, 1st Battalion, 33rd Tank Regiment, 3rd Armored Division stationed in Gelnhausen, FRG in 1976. I had been a Staff Sergeant (E-6) for maybe 6 months and, after spending 2 years with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, I thought I was particularly well trained and motivated . . . no matter what anyone else thought. Unfortunately, my experience since leaving tank training on both the M60A1 and the M551 Sheridan, had all been with M551s.
I was assigned tank B-13 when I reported in because I was a staff sergeant and Irv Lanning, who I took over from, was only a sergeant. In retrospect, that was pretty unfair, but it was not my decision. I name the tank 'BirdBrain' but I don't remember why. At that time our platoons consisted of five tanks, a heavy section and a light section. The heavy section consisted of the ?1, ?2 and ?3 tanks. The light section was ?4 and ?5 with the question mark replaced by the first letter of the company designation, a dash, and the number of the platoon from 1 to 3. The ?1 tank always carried the Platoon commander and the ?4 tank always carried the platoon sergeant. Shortly after I got to the unit Frank Jeffries, who had transferred from the recruiting field to tanks shortly before, was notified that he had been selected to be a Sergeant First Class (E-7) but our platoon sergeant at the time, had not. So Frank was going to become a platoon sergeant with hardly any tank or even field experience. The bad news was that the B-14 tank had not been able to move, shoot or communicate, the three things that make a tank useful in the military, for some time, and had no crew assigned. This meant that the light section (only 112 tons as opposed to the 168 tons of the heavy section?) lacked both experience and vehicles until Frank later came up to speed, very well I think, and B-14 was resurrected . . . as B-15. Frank's old tank, B-15 had a good crew and was in pretty good shape so a decision was made to change the vehicle numbers. I've only seen this done once, but there is nothing difficult about it. B-15 became B14 and vice versa.
I'm not sure whether I volunteered or was drafted, but I seem to remember saying something about needing a challenge. (I think that I had just come back from the Grafenwoehr with a Distinguished Crew, Distinguished Platoon rating from annual gunnery qualification after only a few months back in M60A1s.) Anyway, I ended up as commander of B-15 (ex B-14). It is traditional to give tanks names starting with the company's letter designation when new TCs take over, so I named her 'Basketcase'.
It looked just like a tank but it had a number of long standing-maintenance problems. The batteries (six 99 pounders) had terminal studs that were nearly burnt away from poor crew maintenance. So it got new batteries. That allowed us to find out that the engine was in very bad shape. So the engine (Continental AVDS 1790-2D Air cooled, V type, Diesel, Supercharged (actually with one turbo-charger for each of the two cylinder banks), 1790 cubic inches Model 2 Rev D) was replaced.
Finally being able to move under it's own power allowed me to find out that the suspension was in sad shape. Of 24 road wheels, I think, more than half were missing rubber across the full width in at least one place, which makes them un-serviceable (BUMPY ride). There were numerous missing or bent track center guides that could not be seen or reached unless the tank could move. Many of the roadwheel wear plates were either missing or bent. The transmission was bad. One final drive was bad. Only one torsion bar was bad. (Thank God) and the hub bearings in one of the idler wheels were bad.
So we got lots of new stuff and I have to admit that our company maintenance people did an adequate job with all of the stuff that was too heavy for us to handle. By us I mean me, because I still didn't have an assigned crew except for Darriel Johnson, who was assigned as driver but frequently unavailable for one reason or another. There were a lot of other little problems like missing wiring and a missing personnel heater (very important in Germany) that the supply system was just not able to deal with in a timely manner, so I became the 'Phantom of the Track Park'.
Every day I would prowl the trash cans (55 gallon drums) across the street from the track park to see what treasures were available. You would not believe the things that I found. I NEVER took a part off of another tank to fix a problem on mine, though, and I'm being serious here.
So I finally wound up with a tank that was complete, mechanically, although still far from perfect. I had also used my experience as a radio repairer to get the radios and the intercom in the tank working. The only thing left was being able to shoot, and gunnery qualifications were coming up again. (I never realized before how long it took me to get that far.)
Before a tank goes to the range there are a lot of maintenance functions that are performed automatically. We would take our toys over to the support group shops to have borescope and pullovers done, the hydraulics and mechanical linkages checked, the sights re-charged with nitrogen, the turrets pulled to repair or replace damaged ammunition storage racks, etc. etc. In between these times I would go to town and buy paint and touch up the inside of the turret and during a scheduled maintenance, the hull. I got a friend back in Texas to send me an igniter so I could get a scrounged personnel heater working. (The backlog for new igniters in Germany was about two years. At Fort Hood they were in stock. Hmmmm?)
She even got a new paint job and looked so sweet. A 56 ton killing machine that had probably injured more crewmen, due to their ignorance, fatigue or lack of respect for her, then she ever could have injured enemies in combat. I think she had over 4000 miles on her, which is a lot for a tank between complete rebuilds and over 600 effective rounds fired from the M68 main gun/cannon. (Each type of round causes a different effective amount of wear on the gun. Slow rounds, like High Explosive Plastic, have an effect of less than 1. The worst round was APDS, Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot that, I think, had a wear rating greater than 1. There was one range in Germany where we were allowed to fire one or maybe two of these rounds per year into the side of a cliff, after an officer had personally verified our aim visually and with a gunner's quadrant.)
Suddenly, it's time to go. If she isn't ready now, she never will be..................
My thanks to Rory.
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