The 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion – Fighting on Both Fronts, Samuel de Korte

The 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion – Fighting on Both Fronts, Samuel de Korte

During the Second World War the US Army was segregated, with separate black and white units. Amongst those units were eight tank destroyer battalions manned by black soldiers, although only three actually reached combat. Of those the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion was the first to receive a Distinguished Unit Citation, and although it missed D-Day arrived in Europe in time to take part in some of the first fighting inside Germany, including the capture of the German town of Climbach (which won it the citation), found itself in the path of the Operation North Wind, the last major German offensive on the western front (mounted after the failure of the Ardennes offensive), and then took part in the advance into Austria and across the Alps into Italy.

As one would expect, this history has to cover two battles, starting with the fight against racist attitudes in the United States. Amongst other things this appears to have manifested itself in the choice of which tank destroyer battalions to disband when it was decided that fewer units were needed than had been formed, with five of the eight black units being disbanded, and their trained men often moved to non-combat roles. The unit also suffered from the flawed nature of the tank destroyer concept, developed as a response to the rapid German victories of 1940-41 (and based on a poor understanding of how they were achieved), and which didn’t really fit the nature of warfare by 1944-45. To make things worse, the 614th had been left with towed anti-tank guns instead of the more famous self propelled tank destroyers.

Despite these problems the battalion soon proved itself in combat. It had the advantage of supporting the same 103rd Infantry Division most of the time, and was thus able to build up a good working relationship with that unit. It also had a commander, Frank S. Pritchard, who was able to deal with the problems of the segregated army, already had experience of leading a tank destroyer unit, and who wanted to get his men into combat. In combat the unit proved itself to be the equal of any white unit, soon winning its Distinguished Unit Citation. 

The author has done a good job of recounting the unit’s story, using the men’s own words to give some idea of the perils they faced. He also includes a useful account of the reasons behind the development of the tank destroyers, the flaws in the concept and its post war disappearance, and a brief history of the other two black tank destroyer battalions to see combat, the 827th and 679th. The resulting book is both a useful unit history, and a good piece of social history.

Chapters
1 – The Sources, History, and Criticism
2 – Activating the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion
3 – The 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion
4 – Three-inch Fury
5 – Getting out of the North Wind
6 – Fighting and Resting
7 – Racing through the Alps
8 – The 827th and 679th Tank Destroyer Battalion
9 – The Dusk of the Tank Destroyers

Appendices
A – List of Men in the Unit
B – List of Casualties
C – Medals and citation

Author: Samuel de Korte
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 200
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Year: 2022


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