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Two under the belly.
I have always heard that if a tracked vehicle throws a track under the belly, to the inside, it is a lot harder to fix than if they are thrown outboard. I hope I never find out if this is actually the case.
Shortly after I had received my new non-directional tracks, some previous story, we had another exercise at a major training area in Germany. Things went pretty well except for the time that two of the tanks in the platoon ran out of fuel. I can now admit that this was my fault, because I was supposed to flag down the fuel truck, but instead I was asleep inside the only tank in the platoon that had a working personnel heater, along with probably ten other people. (Yes you can fit a lot of people in a tank if they are good friends or too tired care.)
I saw something during this exercise that brought tears to my eyes, and still does, that I would like to share with you. This was a combined exercise and I had seen some Irish Rangers at the canteen during the pre-exercise warm-ups. I donít want anyone to take this wrong, but they ALL looked like teen-agers, and I was only 28 or 29 at the time. Anyway, they had impressed me with their poise and discipline. The crux of the exercise was an AVLB (Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge) that we were supposed to capture. We, in our tanks, tried, and failed. The Irish Rangers made a dismounted assault on the bridge and the graders gave it to them. It would have been a very expensive thing to do in a real war but it was still extremely impressive and I have seen a lot of infantry assaults.
With the exercise nearly over we were headed in the general direction of the track park when we got a radio call to take a look at something on the other side of a hill mass. The other TCs in the platoon were quite surprised when the platoon commander started to go over the hill rather than around it because it was very steep and rocky with many nasty little gullies. None of us wanted to throw a track this close to the end of the exercise, but we followed, for a while. I was very nervous about the terrain and spent more time looking down than at the tank in front of me. Finally, my driver stopped, because the tank in front stopped. The other TC waved me forward. We were parked close enough together that I could easily step from by front slope to his back deck.
Once again, no names, but we agreed that if we kept on following the platoon commander we would not be eating hot food for quite a while. The other two tanks in the platoon joined us shortly and agreed. This was not tank country and we needed to get down off the hill with as little damage as possible. We had to back down most of the way, which is a good way to find out if your driver, who canít see anything, trusts you. Mine trusted me just fine.
About the time we got out onto the flat we heard the platoon commander on the radio saying that he had thrown a track and needed help. We left our tanks on the flat and started up the hill but the battalion commander, in his jeep, got there before we did.
The platoon commanderís tank was perched on a hillside with both tracks thrown to the inside. They had managed to get themselves into a position that would make it very difficult to try to walk them back on. It was dangerous because of the slope and I didnít envy them the work that would be necessary to get it fixed.
Then, with the battalion commander standing there, the platoon commander said, ďStaff Sergeant Starkweather, I have things to do, so Iím going to leave you here with my tank. Let me know when you get it down.Ē What a vote of confidence! What a stab in the back, front and all the other sides!
What a lucky day for me because the battalion commander immediately took the Lieutenant aside and explained to him that this type of behavior was unacceptable. He said that I was not the one who got the tank stuck and, therefor, it was not my responsibility to get it out. He said that if the Lieutenant asked me to get the tank out, and I agreed, that was one thing, but the lieutenant was not allowed to dump the job on me. Believe it or not, this didnít damage my relationship with the lieutenant, who didnít even ask me to stay.
Now, letís start with the Ďunfortunateliesí. Unfortunately 1 was that no one was able to figure out a way to get the tracks back on where the tank was, so they had to be removed, rolled up and loaded onto the back deck.
Unfortunately 2 was that nothing could get up there to tow the tank down on its roadwheels, so they had to bring in bull dozers and build a road up the side of the hill to the tank.
Unfortunately 3 was that the range the tank was on was scheduled for use for the one of the first demonstrations of the A-10 Warthog tank killer in Germany, but we couldnít get the tank down off the hill in time, so the demonstration was cancelled.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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