Monday, March 22, 2010

Heavy Guns and Thick Armor

At the Patton Museum in Fort Knox, KY

The second day of our history extravaganza took us to Fort Knox, Kentucky; more specifically the Patton Museum. The museum was a veritable treasure trove of armored tanks and vehicles ranging from WWI to the present, including American and enemy tanks. The photo above is a huge life-size diorama featuring an original Mark 4 Tank from 1917. Just below the gun turret on the left side of the tank, you may notice a small whole where a German shell plowed through the armor. (Also take notice of the German grenade "flying" in mid air.)

The FT-17, known as the first "modern tank," was designed by French car manufacturer Louis Renault during World War I. On average, it could move at the swift speed of 4-5 miles per hour! A young Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower trained with such tanks (without the machine guns) at Camp Colt on the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Here is a schematic of the FT-17 which shows its spacious design. Makes you claustrophobic just thinking about it!

Here is a very large, captured Nazi flag (NSDAP standing for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). It was captured by the 761st Tank Battalion sometime in the early spring of 1945. These flags were much sought after as souvenirs, and the new owner of the flag, wanting something to remember his service, had his fellow soldiers sign it. After the end of WWII, the members of the battalion kept in contact and the owner of the flag made it a point to bring it to several of the unit's annual reunions, where additional members signed the flag. In total, there are over 150 signatures, including most of the battalion officers and a number of Silver Star and Bronze Star winners from the unit.

This is the Mark 4 Tank shown in the first photo as seen from the rear. There are a number of hatches that were utilized as firing holes or escape exits. This sucker was massive, the approximate size of a tractor trailer in length. It weighs 29 tons and carried eight crewmen. Approximately 400 of this model were constructed and included six pounder guns and Hotchkiss machine guns. Don't ask me how the got the thing in the museum...

An inside view of the Mark 4. One of the crewman stood on a platform as a navigator of sorts, using the sight to view no man's land and nearby German positions. The two men in the left background were in the gunners' positions.

As you can imagine, the engine for the Mark 4 was equally gargantuan. With the machinery taking up half the interior, I couldn't even get the thing in one shot. Two of the eight men inside the tank were gearmen responsible for operating and directing the vehicle. It must have been incredibly loud, hot, and smoky.

I took this photo for my brother Mark, who shares the same initial as this cavalry flag for "Motorized Force." Such a guidon would have been used for Army motorcycles 1910-1930s.

This "Green Hornet" tanker's uniform was worn by General George S. Patton. "Old Blood and Guts" believed it was important that armored soldier be given unique uniforms to build "espirit-de-corps," or in his words, "to lead with class to what would otherwise be a bothersome bore." This unfirom was originally designed while Patton was a brigadier general. However, his design and choice of color led to it being nicknamed "The Green Hornet" by local media. (Much like the popular comic book hero of that era.) The addition of a gold painted football style helmet further added to the superhero impression.

The Type 95 Light "Ha Go" Japanese Tank was introduced in 1934. It incorporated the best features of the Type 898 Medium Tank as well as other light cavalry tanks. Although fast and maneuverable, it was still no match for the far superior American armor it faced in the Pacific Theater during WWII. 3,300 of the tanks were built between 1937 and 1943. It had a crew of three and weighs over 8 tons. This particular vehicle was captured by American forces upon their return to the Philippine Islands in 1945.

A large selection of WWII tanks and half tracks filled a large gallery at the Patton Museum. This half track is mounted with a Howitzer cannon and .50 caliber machine gun. Despite my inner child instincts, I followed the rules and didn't climb on or into any of the tanks (although I really wanted to)!

Major General Maurice Rose of the 3rd Armored Division was killed wearing this helmet when Nazi shrapnel tore through it. Click to enlarge the photo and read more about General Rose's story.

And of course, there was a German King Tiger tank, which was absolutely gigantic. Keep in mind, I am 6 feet 3 inches and the tank is actually bigger than what it looks in the photo. The tank's extremely thick armor and very accurate and powerful gun overpowered it against almost any armor the Allies could launch at it. Often, it took three or five Sherman Tanks to knock out one of these. The vehicle could move 25-30 miles per hour.

Fellow Penn State student Eric Sral crawls to avoid carnage of the impregnable Tiger Tank.

There weren't only tanks at the Patton Museum, but historical and military artifacts from throughout the world. This post was a border post along the Iron Curtain in Europe. Enlarge image to read the full text.

This is a German Flak 88, which was actually much bigger than I imagined. Once again, I couldn't fit the whole weapon in a single snapshot. This anti-aircraft gun was the most used and most dangerous weapon against B-17 and B-24 bombers during Allied bombing raids over WWII Europe. These guns would illuminate the sky with black, smoky bursts of explosives and shrapnel so often depicted in war movies. Nasty business.

I try my hand at tank driving in the armor simulator.

Student Justin Shope does the same.

My esteemed history professor, Dr. Steve Andrews, trained at Fort Knox in the 1970s and drove tanks in Cold War Germany. His insights into this aspect of the trip added a unique perspective to our visit to the fort.

Dozens of WWII tanks and beyond adorn the museum and base's grounds. More photos from the Patton Museum and Fort Knox to come soon!

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