I served with the U.S Army from 1976 until 1981. Part of that time was spent in West Germany. In the coming weeks I'll be taking brief strolls down memory lane as I relive my time overseas.
Situated approximately twenty miles West of the Czech border lay the United States Army’s Heavy Metal playground in Grafenwohr Germany, more affectionately known as Graf by members of the U. S Army’s Armored Corps. We had other names for the place too but none that I would want to share among the civilian population.
My unit arrived in March of nineteen seventy seven for a six month deployment known as Brigade Seventy Six. We were the Second of the Sixty Seventh Armored brigade, Second Armored Division. “Hell on Wheels” commanded by General George S. Patton the III, that’s right. The son of the legendary WWII general was our division’s commanding officer.
Our stated mission was to conduct a holding action against any Warsaw Pact incursion into Western Europe until reinforcements could arrive from the U.S. Hence our proximity to the then East West German Border that followed the Post WWII Czech border. Equipped with M60A1 Main Battle Tanks our brigade faced two divisions of Heavy Soviet Armor equipped with the Soviet Main Battle tank of the time the T-72.
The T-72 was a sinister looking vehicle that rode low to the ground with a squat round turret equipped with a 125mm smooth bore main gun. The Soviet tactical doctrine was to overwhelm their enemy with numbers and it wasn’t long before we viewed ourselves as nothing more than a speed bump in the path of Warsaw Pact attack.
This was brought home to us during our orientation when we were told that to perform our mission we would need to destroy ten enemy tanks before we were ourselves destroyed. It was surreal to sit in a classroom environment while we calmly discussed the best way to destroy our opponent. There were diagrams that showed the best place to hit a T-72, that also listed the result of a hit elsewhere. Hit them here and you only kill the Gunner.
Generally the best place was the turret ring, where the turret met the hull. It was here that a hit could not only penetrate the crew compartment and set off secondary explosions, but even a ricochet could damage the turret ring locking the enemy turret and taking away their ability to aim properly.
After orientation we settled into our routine. Maintenance, maintenance and more maintenance. Followed by even more maintenance. No one knew if we would be called up so it was imperative that our vehicles were ready at a moment’s notice. This of course came as a shock to me. After spending nearly two years begging for parts for my tank at Fort Hood, now all of the sudden anything the tank needed was provided instantly. No expense was spared at keeping everything running smoothly here on the front lines of the cold war.
One major drawback to performing maintenance on our tanks at the time was the fact that we were fully combat loaded. Each tank carried sixty three rounds of service ammunition for the main gun.
There were two types of ammunition available. Practice ammo was used on the gunnery ranges then there was service ammo, the real stuff. Practice ammo was blue while service ammo was black. Practice ammo was the same as service ammo in every respect but the warhead. Practice HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) and HE (High Explosive) had inert heads. Service ammunition on the other hand contained live explosives.
If maintenance involved work on the batteries or electrical system the tank had to be off loaded before it could be serviced. As the main gun was fired electrically there was always the possibility of setting off a round in its holding tube if an electrical short occurred.