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Death Traps, by Belton Y. Cooper

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  • Death Traps, by Belton Y. Cooper

    A book that I think is worthy of a good thread here on this forum. I added a poll just to see how many people have actually read this one, a lot I bet!!

    I will pull some topics from the book chapter by chapter and let you guys "have at it", it should prove interesting I think!!

    Cheers, a story about the guy who saw more damaged/destroyed Shermans than anyone else. From what he wrote on his time in the 3d Armoured Division as an ordinance officer, he wtites about a lot of ideas that might get some members interest, I know it does for mine!!

    I will start with one of the primary ideas on what Cooper was trying to show in his book.
    Most military historians have failed to completely understand the huge impact on U.S. armoured troops to have to face superior German tanks.

    The book was written in 1998 from the personal memories of Cooper, I did'nt see when the actual date of those were written though.
    76
    Yes
    35.53%
    27
    No
    53.95%
    41
    Maybe, I'm not sure though........
    1.32%
    1
    No, but I plan on getting a copy!!
    9.21%
    7

  • #2
    Cooper's book is a great memoir, but a horrible historical reference. His historical and technical discussions are often plain wrong. It's a useful look into the daily life of a WW2 ordnance liaison officer, but he fails at his attempt to prove the Sherman was inferior or knowingly forced onto US tankers because so much of his info misses the mark.

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    • #3
      Excellent autobiography.
      Those that forget history are condemed to repeat it.
      If you're going to be one you might as well be a BIG RED ONE

      Comment


      • #4
        That's one of those books that has been on my list for quite some time. I'll buy it one of these days!
        "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

        Comment


        • #5
          Thanks for the votes so far!!

          I'm really that it is not 100% read by everyone here!! This could be an interesting thread, my time is a bit limited, as for work right now, so my posts on my various threads may be a bit "weak" until the rush is over, so please forgive me....

          Cheers, I will try to get the first topic up and running Friday, if possible!!

          Tom

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          • #6
            It's an outstanding book and unique too because thousands have been written on the advantages and disadvantages of the Sherman tank but Cooper is one of those guys that go inside a Sherman that had been penetrated by an AP round. He talks about the job of repairing the damage (if at all possible) and recovering the remains of the crew. Having seen so many boys killed in that tank obviously he has some strong emotions about the US decision to deploy that tank against the Germans.

            "Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a ugly brawl."
            --Frederick II, King of Prussia

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            • #7
              It's worth reading. A big flaw is the author has no comparative numbers for the wasatage of Cromwells, Panthers, Mk IVs, etc in comaprative actions.

              Comment


              • #8
                Starting with "Reflections"

                I am skipping some things and getting down to business, Cooper on bocage and hedgerows.

                The area south of the Cotentin Peninsula is the bocage country......it had an almost storybook quality. Quaint, small villages were scattered about the gently rolling hills. The villages were surrounded by fields that were separated by hedgerows. These proved to be a death trap for the American army.
                The bocage country extended from 10 to 40 miles inland from Omaha Beach throughout the Normandy area.......
                The plannning and execution of Operation Overlord was brilliant....... In spite of all this planning, and even though hedgerows existed in England, somehow the tremendous defensive potential was completely overlooked. If G2 and G3 sections were aware of this, it never reached the combat units that had to negotiate these terrible obsticles.

                Now, I think we have all heard this before, but is it really true in the aspect that Cooper wrote this in? Did any combat units actually know about the Bocage before they landed? And, did the intel of the Allies fail in this respect, did they consider bocage at all, was it deemed, unimportant or was it just not noticed by anyone?

                Cheers, is this a good start? It does get a lot better, but I want to hit on some of the basics here, as they come up in the book, that at least I have a question or two on.

                Tom

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by TRDG View Post
                  .... Did any combat units actually know about the Bocage before they landed? And, did the intel of the Allies fail in this respect, did they consider bocage at all, was it deemed, unimportant or was it just not noticed by anyone?
                  The short answer is no. The implications of the air photos, maps, and written decription of the Normandy terrain did not sink in completely. Influencing this was the original estimates of the Overlord planners for the rate of advance. For general planning purposes estimates were made on how far the Allied armys might advance each week. From those planning estimates the Army, Corps, and Divsion commanders, or at least many of them, apparently drew the conclusion that the fighting would advance beyond Normandy before the end of June. There seems to have been a idea that the Germans would perfer to fight a mobile battle inland, raher than a positional attritional battle on the coast where the Allies would presumably have the advantage.

                  So not the Allied generals did not think of the terrain in terms of a battle they did not exect to fight.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by grognard View Post
                    It's worth reading. A big flaw is the author has no comparative numbers for the wasatage of Cromwells, Panthers, Mk IVs, etc in comaprative actions.
                    Oh, thats a big oops!
                    I still plan to read it, saw the History channel show on the book.

                    On the one hand, it seems a little like baseing everything you know about Korea on that MASH show. On the other hand, the Sherman WAS inferior by 1944. The Army staff seemed to think that fighter-bombers and Bazookas could handle the Panzers, and that Shermans were there to provide artillery support for the Grunts.
                    They were partly right, and the tank crews paid the price for the other part.

                    Now, our troops were told that they had been given the best tanks in the world... and this proved to be false. Ironicaly, this proved to have a lasting benifit! The back-lash was such that ever since, our troops HAVE had the best; M-48, M-60 and now the M-1, all vehicles that have been world-beaters in their eras.

                    (an interesting side-note that is a bit off-topic; when Iran faced an Iraqi invasion in 1980, the troops went into combat believing that the M-60 was the better tank than the Iranian version of the British Chieftan. The M-60 was older and had a smaller gun, but had a fantastic reputation for reliability and cross-country preformance.
                    However, by the end of the war, the Iranians had reversed their opinion. The heavy, lumbering Chieftan, liable to breakdowns and just plain crankey at the best of times, was by far the prefered mount. It's 120mm gun guaranteed a kill, it's armor was thick enough to make it survivable in a bad situation, and its speed was no an issue in the set-peice battles on that front.
                    All in all, the Iranian M-60s seemed to bear out the lesson of the Sherman, bot only 20 years after it's introduction. Firepower, and enough armor to allow the crew to survive long enough to become veterans, trumps reliability in a real war.)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Exorcist View Post
                      Oh, thats a big oops!
                      I still plan to read it, saw the History channel show on the book.

                      On the one hand, it seems a little like baseing everything you know about Korea on that MASH show. On the other hand, the Sherman WAS inferior by 1944. The Army staff seemed to think that fighter-bombers and Bazookas could handle the Panzers, and that Shermans were there to provide artillery support for the Grunts.
                      They were partly right, and the tank crews paid the price for the other part.

                      Now, our troops were told that they had been given the best tanks in the world... and this proved to be false. Ironicaly, this proved to have a lasting benifit! The back-lash was such that ever since, our troops HAVE had the best; M-48, M-60 and now the M-1, all vehicles that have been world-beaters in their eras.

                      (an interesting side-note that is a bit off-topic; when Iran faced an Iraqi invasion in 1980, the troops went into combat believing that the M-60 was the better tank than the Iranian version of the British Chieftan. The M-60 was older and had a smaller gun, but had a fantastic reputation for reliability and cross-country preformance.
                      However, by the end of the war, the Iranians had reversed their opinion. The heavy, lumbering Chieftan, liable to breakdowns and just plain crankey at the best of times, was by far the prefered mount. It's 120mm gun guaranteed a kill, it's armor was thick enough to make it survivable in a bad situation, and its speed was no an issue in the set-peice battles on that front.
                      All in all, the Iranian M-60s seemed to bear out the lesson of the Sherman, bot only 20 years after it's introduction. Firepower, and enough armor to allow the crew to survive long enough to become veterans, trumps reliability in a real war.)

                      What are your sources for the comments about the M-60 vs the Chieftan?
                      Those that forget history are condemed to repeat it.
                      If you're going to be one you might as well be a BIG RED ONE

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Exorcist View Post
                        On the one hand, it seems a little like baseing everything you know about Korea on that MASH show. On the other hand, the Sherman WAS inferior by 1944. The Army staff seemed to think that fighter-bombers and Bazookas could handle the Panzers, and that Shermans were there to provide artillery support for the Grunts.
                        They were partly right, and the tank crews paid the price for the other part.
                        Inferior to what? Not Pz.Kpfw.IV, especially once 76 mm gun Shermans were being accepted beginning in January 1944. Was Sherman a better tank killer than Panther or Tiger? Of course not. One was a heavy tank; the other weighed as much as M26 and IS-2, and the rationale behind its genesis was expressly to defeat T-34. Does that make the M4 an inferior tank? Do you think the Allies could have driven from France to Germany if they had been equipped with solely Panthers and Tigers, not to mention getting the tanks to Europe in the first place?

                        Now, our troops were told that they had been given the best tanks in the world... and this proved to be false. Ironicaly, this proved to have a lasting benifit! The back-lash was such that ever since, our troops HAVE had the best; M-48, M-60 and now the M-1, all vehicles that have been world-beaters in their eras.
                        Ask an M60 tanker how he'd fancy going up against a T-64 or T-80 in the mid-late '70s.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Thank you very kindly for the info, next update is

                          Monday night, after work, I get a day off, thank god!!

                          Cheers, there is just so much to pick from.......

                          Tom

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                          • #14
                            Death Traps

                            Originally posted by grognard View Post
                            It's worth reading. A big flaw is the author has no comparative numbers for the wasatage of Cromwells, Panthers, Mk IVs, etc in comaprative actions.
                            Such data is often impossible to come by, and would suffer from differing methodology. I have some statistics for British, Soviet and German tank losses but would be wary of trying to compare them.

                            Cooper's book has irritating errors. While he rightly praises the Oilgear traverse system of some Shermans, he keeps saying that German tanks had hand-cranked turrets. The PzKfw III and the PzKfw IVJ did, but most PzKfw IVs had an electrical system powered by a two-stroke motor, while Panthers and Tigers used hysraulic power take off from the engine. I admit that they were crude systems that needed hand adjustments for fine laying, but that of the Panther and Tiger II were, respectively, almost as fast, and faster, than the Sherman's 15 seconds per 360. A Sherman with a Westinghouse electrical or Loganport hydraulic gear had little advantage over these tanks in this respect.

                            He is also wrong about the MG 42 - saying the whole gun had to be replaced if the barrel "went bad". No, both the MG 42 and BREN had quick-change barrels, unlike the BAR.

                            I would also hesitate calling the US army well trained and disciplined. They floundered in the bocage just like other allied troops.

                            He also gets some of the Panther and Tiger armour figures wrong - he talks of quarter inch deck armour whereas Panther had 16mm and Tiger 25mm.

                            Panzer Lehr was not 'new' when it attacked US troops; it had already fought in the British sector.

                            Nor was the US 90mm AA well designed for use against ground targets. In this respect the 88mm FlaK 18 and 36, and the Flak 41 were better.

                            The British and Canadian roles may have been eclipsed by the US breakout, but their sacrifice made it possible.

                            I doubt that the RAF deliberately refrained from bombing Cologne cathedral - such accuracy by level bombers was impossible.

                            The Pershing did NOT have half the ground pressure of the Sherman - 12.7 lbs per inch squared, compared to about 14. Most German tanks had GPs of 11-15 pounds, not the "almost twice" 7 pound psi Cooper mentions.

                            The Jagdtiger had 10" of frontal armour, not 13"; allowing for slope on the glacis rather more.

                            I would also regard "the most powerful ground force ever assembled" to be the Red army in Europe, not the US army. Sorry. Who annihilated the German war machine? I say the Soviets.

                            The British flail tank was actually pioneered in the desert, not NW Europe.

                            US rubber-padded tracks did less damage to the roads, but German tracks gripped better on ice.

                            When Cooper talks of tank fires, he omits the most common cause - ammunition. Burning tanks could sometimes be repaired, and the British certainly re-used partly burned Shermans even though the armour had been softenend. It was not only the Germans who fired at tanks until they caught fire. This was common sense.

                            Most German AP shot had an explosive filling, so the incident described on page 21 was either a dud round or inert APCR shot, which by 1944 was very rare for German guns.

                            The M24 had torsion bar suspension, not Christie, which used springs and bell cranks. German tanks never used Christie but preferred torsion bars for the most part. The PzKfw IV had 80-85mm frontal armour, not 4".

                            Cooper also thinks that the various US M4 designations referred to differing armament, rather than engine types and hull changes. The British experience was that applique armour added as extra plating in front of the ammo stowage made little difference, and even caused shot traps.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Charles Markuss View Post
                              Such data is often impossible to come by, and would suffer from differing methodology. I have some statistics for British, Soviet and German tank losses but would be wary of trying to compare them.
                              Could you post the British losses? I have Jentz for German losses and Kirosheev for Russian. If you have Russian by type, e.g. T-34, T-26 I'd appreciate those also. Thanks.

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