Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Fury" Brings Back Memories of Tank Gunnery and Life in a Turret.


On Monday night my son Nigel and three men from Church went to see "Fury" with me.  I re-read books I love and will watch movies and TV shows I like a second, third, or more times.  Re-reading and re-watching takes away the delight of surprise that only the first time can offer, but removing surprise lets the best moments sink in more deeply.

In 1976 I spent more time inside my tank "Bad Bitch" than at any other time in my Army career.  That year our brigade was training to go to Germany for three years as Brigade '76--4,000 combat soldiers with an alert area in Fulda, West Germany:  the place where everyone thought the ground war with the Soviet Army in Europe would start.  Tom Clancy wrote his best novel about that war:  "Red Storm Rising."

In the Spring of 1976, the 54 tanks of 1st Battalion, 70th Armor, spent three weeks in the Colorado desert for annual gunnery training.  For three months before that I read the 700-page maintenance and operation manual for the M60A1 Patton tank I commanded from cover to cover.  I came to the Army from the Air Force and was determined to be as good as the Army at tank gunnery.

For three months before gunnery, my crew was the last to go home at night, and sometimes was in on weekends when everyone else was off so we could drill on every aspect of tank gunnery.  Some afternoons we drove to the top of a hill near the motor pool and tracked cars on Interstate 25.  Moving targets are difficult with a tank cannon.  We drilled on tracking targets for hours.

One of the things "Fury" gets so right is how different the members of a crew can be and how well they can work together confined in a turret despite all those differences.  My gunner was Specialist Morris.  His nickname was "Merc."  Because Mercury Morris was a start running back of the 70s.  I was a starched, creased ambitious young sergeant.  Merc was a very good gunner, but a wrinkled, complaining soldier who was at his best after smoking dope.  Outside the tank we would not spend two minutes together.  Inside Merc and I became a team that could hit targets, even if we could never hit it off.

We had an amazing loader in Eugene "Geno" Pierce.  Geno was big, strong and quick.  He could flip and armor-piercing round into the breach one-handed in two seconds and have the second round in the chamber while the first one was still rattling to the bottom of the turret after the first shot.  Our driver, Rich Burhans, was a lanky, laid-back Minnesotan.  He was perfect as a driver.  He could wait calmly during long delays and then driver the 54-ton tank smoothly down the firing lanes.

On the final day of tank gunnery when we were next up to fire on the moving range, Merc walked off into the woods to "have a smoke."  He came back calm and happy.  We were ready to fire.  Would three months of practice really pay off on the ten-minute "Final Exam" for tankers?

Next post.

Other posts on Fury:

Fourth time watching Fury

Review

Faith in Fury

Memories

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review of "Fury"

Last night I went to see the movie "Fury" at the 945pm showing.  That meant movie did not start until 1006pm and was not over until after midnight.

At more than 20,000 days my life is much too long to say for sure this is the best movie I have ever seen, but it is the best movie I can remember ever seeing.  I walked out of the movie slowly after watching the credits.

I never stay for the credits.

But the credits of Fury show actual footage from World War 2 I remember from documentaries.

The story begins in the flaming, smoking wreckage of a tank battle with a lone German on a horse riding into the scene.  The somber calm is broken when Brad Pitt jumps from his tank and kills the German with a knife.  Pitt and his crew are the only survivors of the battle.  They get the disabled tank running and return to the war.

From this scene onward, the movie gets perfectly right the claustrophobic, noisy dangerous world inside a tank.  Even without a war, every tank turret is divided in half by a main gun.  When the main gun is fired, the gun recoils almost to the back of the turret.  Hands, legs, gear, bodies or anything else behind the main gun gets crushed.  This movie gets that danger right.  The crew calls the metal enclosure home, but home is a place that can turn into a fuel and ammo fueled inferno.

In the middle of the movie, four American Sherman tanks are attacked by one German Tiger tank.  The American tanks are outgunned by the more heavily armored German tank and three of the four Sherman tanks are smoking wrecks by the time the brief, violent battle ends.  The way the fight went brought back my best memories of tank gunnery and how well a crew that agrees on little or nothing outside the tank can mesh to put fire on targets.

Like "Saving Private Ryan" the premise of the last scene is ridiculous.  But unlike Ryan, which had me laughing and calling "bullshit" I stayed with the movie because even if the scene was unbelievable tactically, as bad as the worst John Wayne movie, the final scene made clear how attached crews can become to their tank and to each other.

The battle between the Tiger and the Shermans is worth the price of admission by itself.  Brad Pitt's character drew me in past every filter I have for war movies.

I am going to see Fury again in the theater.  Maybe twice.

Other posts on Fury:

Fourth time watching Fury

Review

Faith in Fury

Memories

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Apache Live Fire

In mid-August I watched AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters fire rockets and cannon at targets on Range 40 at Camp Grayling, Michigan.  The exercise included ground troops, mortars, artillery and US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack fighters.

Here are the Apaches firing rockets and cannon:






Next post I will show the ground crews loading the rockets and 30mm chain gun.

Cold War Hero Who Served After 1991

Armand Lattes, Professor Emeritus of the University Paul Sabatier, Toulouse When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the world faced ...