Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole's TreadHead Tuesday - 761st 'Black Panther' Tank Bn (1942-1945) - Mar. 8th, 2005
Posted on 03/07/2005 10:32:19 PM PST by SAMWolf
are acknowledged, affirmed and commemorated.
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Before and during mobilization for World War II, officials in Washington, D.C., debated whether or not African-American soldiers should be used in armored units. Many military men and politicians believed that blacks did not have the brains, quickness or moral stamina to fight in a war.
Referring to his World War I experiences, Colonel James A. Moss, commander of the 367th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division, stated, "As fighting troops, the Negro must be rated as second-class material, this primarily to his inferior intelligence and lack of mental and moral qualities." Colonel Perry L. Miles, commander of the 371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, voiced a similar opinion: "In a future war, the main use of the Negro should be in labor organizations." General George S. Patton, Jr., in a letter to his wife, wrote that "a colored soldier cannot think fast enough to fight in armor."
The armed forces embraced these beliefs even though African Americans had fought with courage and distinction in the Revolutionary War and every other war and conflict ever waged by the United States. They overlooked the fact that four regiments of the 93rd Division had served with the French during World War I and that the French government had awarded the coveted Croix de Guerre to three of the four regiments and to a company of the fourth, as well as to the 1st Battalion, 367th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division.
Aerial view of post troops section, Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, 1941. Yes, those are mostly all tents. Photo credit: US Army Signal Corps,
Lieutenant General Leslie J. McNair, chief of the U.S. Army ground forces, was the main proponent of allowing African Americans to serve in armored units. He believed his nation could ill afford to exclude such a potentially important source of manpower. The black press, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Congress of Racial Equality also placed increasing pressure on the War Department and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration to allow black soldiers to serve on an equal footing with white soldiers.
In the summer of 1940, Congress passed into law the Selective Training and Service Act, which said, "In the selection and training of men under this act, there shall be no discrimination against any person on account of race and color." In October, however, the White House issued a statement saying that, while "the services of Negroes would be utilized on a fair and equitable basis," the policy of segregation in the armed forces would continue.
In March 1941, 98 black enlisted men reported to Fort Knox, Ky., from Fort Custer, Mich., for armored warfare training with the 758th Tank Battalion (light). The pioneer black tankers trained in light tank operations, mechanics and related phases of mechanized warfare, as enlisted men from other Army units joined their ranks.
Tank crew at Camp Claiborne (National Archives)
The 758th trained on the M-5 light tank, which carried a crew of four. Powered by twin Cadillac engines, it could reach a maximum speed of 40 mph and had an open-road cruising range of 172 miles. It was armed with a .30 caliber machine gun mounted to fire along the same axis as the tank's main armament, a 37mm cannon. When the tracer bullets from the .30 caliber registered on a target, the cannon would be fired, hopefully scoring a direct hit. The M-5 was also armed with two more .30-caliber machine guns, one on the turret and one in the bow. The light tank was employed to provide fire support, mobility and crew protection in screening and reconnaissance missions.
The 5th Tank Group, commanded by Colonel LeRoy Nichols, was to be made up of black enlisted personnel and white officers. With the 758th Tank Battalion in place, two more tank battalions were needed to complete the 5th Tank Group.
On March 15, 1942, the War Department ordered the activation of the 761st Tank Battalion (light) at Camp Claiborne, La., with an authorized strength of 36 officers and 593 enlisted men. (The final battalion--the 784th--would be activated on April 1, 1943.) On September 15, 1943, the 761st Battalion moved to Camp Hood, Texas, for advanced training; there they changed from light to medium tanks.
Cleaning the equipment (photo from National Archives)
On July 6, 1944, one of the 761st's few black officers, Lieutenant Jackie Robinson, was riding a civilian bus from Camp Hood to the nearby town of Belton. He refused to move to the back of the bus when told to do so by the driver. Court-martial charges ensued but could not proceed because the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Paul L. Bates, would not consent to the charges. The top brass at Camp Hood then transferred Robinson to the 758th Tank Battalion, whose commander immediately signed the court-martial consent.
The lieutenant's trial opened on August 2 and lasted for 17 days, during which time the 761st departed Camp Hood. Robinson was charged with violating the 63rd and 64th Articles of War. The first charge specified, "Lieutenant Robinson behaved with disrespect toward Captain Gerald M. Bear, Corps Military Police, by contemptuously bowing to him and giving several sloppy salutes while repeating, O'kay Sir, O'kay Sir, in an insolent, impertinent and rude manner." The second charge stipulated, "Lieutenant Robinson having received a lawful command by Captain Bear to remain in a receiving room at the MP station disobeyed such order." Robinson was eventually acquitted, and he was not charged for his actions on the bus. Three years later, Robinson was riding buses in the major leagues after breaking baseball's color barrier.
In October 1944, after two years of intense armored training, the 761st Tank Battalion, known as the "Black Panthers," landed in France. The tankers received a welcome from the Third Army commander, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., who had observed the 761st conducting training maneuvers in the States: "Men, you're the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren't good. I have nothing but the best in my Army. I don't care what color you are as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sons of bitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all your race is looking forward to you. Don't let them down and damn you, don't let me down!"
Major General J. Lesley McNair
On November 8, 1944, the Black Panthers became the first African-American armored unit to enter combat, smashing into the towns of Moyenvic and Vic-sur-Seille. During the attack, Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers, in Able Company's lead tank, encountered a roadblock that held up the advance. With utter disregard for his personal safety, he courageously climbed out of his tank under direct enemy fire, attached a cable to the roadblock and removed it. His prompt action prevented a serious delay in the offensive and was instrumental in the success of the attack.
On November 9, Charlie Company ran into an anti-tank ditch near Morville. The crack German 11th Panzer Division began to knock out tanks one by one down the line. The tankers crawled through the freezing muddy waters of the ditch under pelting rain and snow while hot shell fragments fell all around them. When German artillery began to walk a line toward the ditch, the tankers' situation looked hopeless.
After exiting his burning tank, 1st Sgt. Samuel Turley organized a dismounted combat team. When the team found itself pinned down by a counterattack and unable to return fire, Turley ordered his men to retreat, climbed from the ditch and provided covering fire that allowed them to escape.
Such incredibly excellent soldiers! Thanks for sharing their story. The fellas from WWII gave us all a military heritage we can be VERY proud of!
I thiink spring is finally here. The weather has been great.
On This Day In History
Birthdates which occurred on March 08:
1075 Abu 'l-Kasim Mahmud ibn Omar al-Zamachshari Arab theologist
1495 Juan de Dios Portugal/Spain, saint/founder (Brothers of Mercy)
1787 Karl Ferdinand von Grafe help create modern plastic surgery
1836 Matthew Calbraith Butler Major General (Confederate Army)
1841 Oliver Wendell Holmes Massachusetts, 59th Supreme Court justice (1902-32)
1865 Frederick William Goudy US, printer/type designer
1879 Otto Hahn German physicist/chemist (Nobel 44, radiothorium/actinium, co-discoverer-nuclear fission)
1911 Elsie Agnes Giorgi physician/humanitarian
1914 Jacob B Bakema urban developer (St Louis MO)
1918 Alan Hale [MacKahan] Jr Los Angeles CA, actor (Skipper Jonas Grumby-Gilligan's Island)
1921 Cyd Charisse [Tula Ellice Finklea] Amarillo TX, dancer/actress (East Side West Side, Brigadoon)
1939 Jim Bouton Newark NJ, pitcher (New York Yankees)/author (Ball Four)
1940 Leslie Isben Rogge one of FBI's most wanted
1945 Keith Jarrett pianist/composer
1945 Mickey Dolenz Los Angeles CA, actor (Circus Boy) singer/drummer (Monkees)
1952 Vladimir Vladimirovich Vasyutin USSR, cosmonaut (Soyuz T-14)
1963 Kathy Ireland model/actress (Alien From LA, Side Out)
1970 Jason Elam NFL kicker (Denver Broncos-Superbowl 32)
1973 Nanette Pearson Pleasant Grove UT, Miss America-Utah (1996)
It's gonna be a "wear your Treadhead T-shirt to work day" today. It's good to be the boss. :-)
Thanks for the story of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
It helps confirm that the Marines are always making the best of the other services "leftovers". ;-)
LOL! I wish!!!
So who was gonna be taking the V-1 for a spin? ;-)
I think Kareem's book is goning to help get these men some recognition.
Morning Darksheare. That wasn't one of your gags was it?
It's a shame, that because of the times, these men didn't get all the recognition they deserved until so much later.
Spring is here too. We have sunny skies and temps in the low 50's.
Morning Tanker Feather. :-)
If you type "feather tank" into google images guess what's the first hit?
Let's keep our fingers crossed. I'm ready for Spring and Summer.
Morning Sam. Does this mean I am famous?? LOL
Well that is interesting!!!! Was that *your* tracked vehicle up there? :-)