Patton’s Panthers. The Famous 761st All Black Tank Battalion

by Daniel Russ on May 1, 2015

M4 Shermans Firefly With Distinctly Larger 75mm Gun

 

M4 Sherman Firefly With Distinctly Larger 75mm Gun

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Nothing makes people color blind like combat. Nothing will evanesce faster than bigotry when opposites find a common enemy. And nothing shatters the shibboleths of old world society prejudice like seeing people of all colors and creeds take up arms in support of each other. World War II was a blessing in disguise for Black people. Ironically almost every war we have fought on an epic scale, Black people have had to use the opportunity to prove their patriotism or their mettle. When freed slaves wanted to join the Colonial Army during the Revolution, Washington demurred. The British in turn reached out to them to cast their lot with the Royal Crown. The Tuskegee Airmen are another famous example and as if that weren’t enough, there were famous tank battalions that were all black.

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The 761st Tank Battalion was the first all black combat tank battalion to see action. They were eager to go to war and prove that Black people could fight. And after they saw 183 continuous days of fighting, and took the town of take towns of Vic-Sur-Seille, and Moyenvic and after they pierced the dreaded Siegfried Line, there was no doubt that Black people could fight in tanks. Their leader, Lt. Colonel Paul Bates was white, and earned their absolute trust and respect. He needed it because they were put in the front lines by George S. Patton behind the beaches at Normandy on June 9th 1944. The 761st Black tankers began a fast, violent and grinding attack sweeping eastward against the retreating Wehrmacht as it slugged its way backed into Germany and Austria.

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Bigots in the decision chain held them back for months. During those months of idleness back home, the 761st tank battalion did not stay idle They trained and they trained all the time. They practiced coordinated counter attacks. They practised ambushing tank destroyers. When they were finally placed into combat theater, they executed excellently.

Few talk about the fact that their first major combat assignment was to take Vic-Sur-Seille. They did indeed, and in doing so they defeated the 11th Panzer Division. This is the equivalent of a winning college team beating the Green Bay Packers in their debut game.

When the Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive and surrounded the 101st Airborne Division in the town of Bastogne. The 101st refused to surrender and desperately needed relief. George Patton promised to be there in two days, at the time a quite ambitious and onerous accomplishment. They did make it in 3 days and that was largely because the 761st took the town of Tille and opened a gap in the Germans lines and allowed rescue forces in.

After six months of nonstop fighting, the war ended, and it ended in no small part because of the injection of Black soldiers alongside Allied assets just they were needed.

It would be another twenty years before the same soldiers could vote or sit at the front of the bus.

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Stuart_m5a1_cfb_borden

M5 Stuart Tank with 37mm Gun.

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761st

Posing for a Beauty Shot before deployment. The 761st Tank Battalion Members

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Patton’s speech to the men of the 761st prior to deployment

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 sonsofbitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all your race is looking forward to your success. Don’t let them down and damn you, don’t let me down! They say it is patriotic to die for your country. Well, let’s see how many patriots we can make out of those German sonsofbitches.”

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Louis October 11, 2017 at 6:00 am

“M4 Sherman Firefly With Distinctly Larger 75mm Gun”
As the 75mm was the much maligned original gun, and the US changed that to a 76mm gun later, and the Firefly has a 76.2mm/3inch gun, this might be a typo. I would suggest this should read “M4 Sherman Firefly with distinctly larger 17pounder/3inch gun.”
Also interesting is that the french army that was fighting alongside Pattons army was, for a substantial part, made up of coloured troops, who had black officers, and had been fighting for France since before WWI, even on the West Front then. I understand that there was a policy within the US army to keep their black troops away from the French black troops.

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