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The End of Basketcase.
After my second gunnery qualification with B company 1st Battalion, 33rd Armored, 3rd Armored Division, stationed at Gelnhausen, FRG I was reaching a point where I had less than a year left on my enlistment contract so the rest of this is kind of a blur and may not have happened in the order that I tell it.
There was quite a bit of saber rattling going on at the time (1978) and we actually got called out a few times, usually late at night, to head for our GDP positions (German Defense Positions). This was kind of a joke for me because my tankís position was behind a barn on the forward slope of a hill more than 200 meters from the wood line behind me. This was in a very large cultivated valley. If I had been a bad guy, and shooting actually started, Iím not sure whether my first shot would have been through that barn, just in case, or whether I would have thought ďNo one in his right mind would set up there.Ē Anyway, that position was not my choice.
The trips to the border were always interesting and I believe we never used exactly the same route twice, but the majority of the trip was on the autobahn. Vibration has a tendency to loosen mechanical connections and we were followed by trucks that would pick up things like center-guides and end-connectors that had vibrated loose from the tracks. We had the aluminum wheels with replaceable wear plates, so I saw a lot of those as well. Every now and then there would be something really interesting like a support roller or an escape hatch. When we would stop the tank commanders would look over their suspensions and then go back to the trucks to get as many essential replacement parts as possible. Some of the stuff was unusable but we very seldom had to leave a tank along side the road due to missing suspension parts. My tank lost very few parts on these trips because of something that happened during a training exercise shortly after gunnery.
We were at one of the major training areas just before a big unit level exercise. The day before as a matter of fact. My driver, Sp4 Darriel Johnson, and I, had been out somewhere, and, with no one around, had decided to see how fast Basketcase would go. I knew it had a really good engine in it, except for a mysterious oil leak. Anyway, the top speed listed for an M60A1 is 30 miles per hour. When we hit 42 Darriel said he didnít feel comfortable with the way the steering felt so we slowed back down and headed for the track park. In our parking spot we found two complete new tracks, on pallets. At this time Basketcase was the only tank in the platoon that had the old style directional Ďchevroní track because of the period of more than a year when it had been a hangar queen. I didnít really want to give up the chevron track because I felt that it performed better on ice and snow that the non-directional track. (The non directional track had replaceable pads, which meant more than 300 extra fasteners to keep tight, but part of the idea was that on ice one out of every five of the rubber faced pads could be removed which would, theoretically, bring the manganese-steel part of the pad in direct contact with the ice to give better traction. I donít know if this actually worked because I never saw it done.) Anyway, track tension adjustment was done by moving the front idler wheels in or out. When a track became so worn that the idler wheel could not be moved out far enough to make the track tight, a pad was removed. After two pads were removed from one side the track was considered to be unserviceable. I think I probably had at least two pads removed from each side at this time but I didnít want to have to replace the tracks in the mud, in the dark, with only part of a crew and less than 12 hours until we were scheduled to go out for the exercise. I tried to talk my way out of it but no luck.
My memory is a little vague here so please bear with me. I think that there were 80 track pads per side and that the pallets of new track came in blocks of 5. That would mean assembling two tracks out of 16 sections laid out on the ground in front of the tank and staggered so that we could drive onto the new track and always have one drive sprocket with track on it. Then we had to break the old track, connect it to the new track, drive off the old onto the new, move forward until we could haul the new track end up over the drive sprocket, run it all the forward and connect it. I think that each pad weighed more than 40 pounds, but Iím not sure. Anyway, even this part was pretty rough work, but we also had to tighten up every fastener on the tracks before we were done. The track pads are connected on each end by an end connector with associated wedge bolt, and in the center by the center guide. The inner wedge bolts, which could only be correctly tightened when their respective pads were wrapped around the idler wheel, were very difficult to reach. So you figure 158 wedge bolts and 79 center guides, plus 160 track pad mounting bolts per side. We finished up at about two in the morning but I was pretty sure that we had everything fairly well tightened up, and we actually had very few problems with this set of tracks.
I havenít said much about our company mechanics, partly because they varied in usefulness considerably. The turret mechanics were generally pretty good, but the hull mechanics were sometimes drafted from the crews because they were not considered to be of much use there. I eventually ended doing most of the mechanical work on my tank without the mechanics because of incidents like the following.
Knowing that we were going to the field somewhere the next morning, company maintenance decided to pull my engine the night before because of the mysterious oil leak. The decision was made late enough that I had already had a few beers at the club so I went down to watch but didnít feel competent to get involved at the time. Everything looked like it came apart and went back together pretty well but it was late and dark. The next morning we were driving down a narrow road headed into a small village with very narrow streets when Darriel called me on the intercom and told me he had no control over engine speed. The accelerator pedal was flat on the floor and pulling it up didnít have any effect. The brakes had little effect. We had a fuel shutoff but maybe it didnít work or would not have worked in time, I really canít remember. Anyway, I had him shift to low gear to give me some time and called the lead tank on the radio (I wasnít with my platoon at the time.) to tell them I had a problem. There is an access plate in the partition between the engine and the turret that is used when the throttle linkage is disconnected for pulling the engine out. It was held in place by fifteen or twenty bolts. I had the necessary ratcheting wrench and socket handy, so, as quickly as possible, I pulled the panel and peered in with my flashlight. These engines usually have two throttle return springs but I canít remember where they were located right now. I did know, however, that the one mounted on the engine was missing and had been on order for several months. The bolt used to connect the throttle linkage at this point is not a standard bolt and if it is put in wrong, it doesnít do much of anything. It appeared that was what had happened and that the bolt had vibrated loose and fallen down into the hull. I was able to control engine speed by manipulating the throttle linkage with my hand although it was uncomfortable, and due to the design of the linkage, not very accurate, but we made it through the town and were able to stop on the other side until the maintenance people brought me a new bolt, which I put in myself. The bad thing about all this was that they had not found the oil leak the night before.
Shortly after this we had to go to the border again, and Basketcase used 55 gallons of oil in less than 12 hours. The grill doors were dripping oil when we stopped. This was a bad thing but I loved that engine. Shortly after that it was time for the annual Reforger exercise and I didnít want to miss that. Up until the day before we were supposed to leave I thought that Basketcase was going to be left behind because of the leak. The engine had been out four times and no one could figure out where the oil leak was. Engines are hard to find just before a big exercise because the maintenance people are a little more willing to let them loose and the commanders want as many vehicles as possible out in the field. About 12 hours before we were scheduled to leave I heard that our maintenance people had found an engine fresh out of rebuild. It looked pretty good and sounded all right but the specification sheet that came with it showed that the exhaust gas temperatures for all of the cylinders on one bank ran about 500 degrees cooler than the corresponding cylinder on the opposite bank. When I asked about that I was told that was fairly normal. Somehow I doubted that.
Anyway, on the second day of the exercise, the engine just stopped while we were moving across a field. I immediately called Darriel and asked him what was up. He said he didnít know it had just stopped and he couldnít see anything wrong, but it wouldnít start. It turned over, but that was all. We eventually found out that the crankshaft had broken.
I hate being towed, and it had only happened to me once before, at Fort Hood. My crew and I were kind of like gypsies for the rest of the exercise. We spent the first night in the tank retriever that towed the tank to a staging area for dead vehicles. Then I spent a few days with the companyís operations section in an M113, and I finally ended up getting back to Gelnhausen in a ĎGOERí which is a large four wheel amphibious ammunition carrier. Along the way I saw a few interesting things, like Liechtensteinís entire army in formation one day, but it was a miserable exercise for me.
A few days after we got back, I got another new engine, one of the RISE models that had most of the connections between the engine and the hull in places where they could actually be reached and automatic drainage of the fuel water separators as well as several other improvements. It just didnít seem to have the power that I was used to, but it didnít leak a drop of oil. I spent some time trying to scrape the remnants of my plastic five-gallon water can off of the front slope. (The retriever that pulled us was one of the old gasoline engined M88s that can blow flames out of itís grill doors several feet long. I had neglected to remove the water can from its mount on the bustle rack and it melted and ran down onto the front slope. I also found out that my crew had lost the tool bag while I was away from the tank. I think the tools were valued at $600-$800 at the time because a lot of them were ĺ inch drive Snap-On parts. Oh well. It wasnít as bad as the time they got the engine oil overfull and decided to drain a little out but dropped the drain plug into the bucket. It took all day to get 30 gallons of oil up off the slab.
Then I was told that we were turning in all of our tanks except for B-50, the blade tank, and were going to receive brand new M60A1 RISE Passive models. I believe that these were later called M60A3s. I donít think that I had ever even seen a new tank before. I donít remember how I got by without turning in a tool bag with Basketcase. I had very mixed emotions about turning that tank in after all we had been through together. It was nearly mechanically complete, although dinged and dirty, had new tracks and a new engine. I pretty much knew everything that was still wrong with it and I understand that replacement parts for it finally started trickling in later so a lot of the remaining problems would have gone away. Due to its history, it had the lowest mileage in the company.
The Ďoldí tanks sat around the track park for a few days after we got the new ones, awaiting transportation and I have to admit that it bothered to see Basketcase sitting there sealed, with all of the vision blocks, most of which I had found in the trash, stowed.
I didnít even have the new tank long enough to give it a name before I went off on a long series of adventures. I didnít have anything in mind for it right away anyway. Finally, on one of the rare occasions when I was back in Gelnhausen, I found out that it had been turned over to a friend of mine, Staff Sergeant Talley. It would never have been Basketcase II. It just didnít give me that feeling.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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