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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Flames of War - Vehicles of the 761st Tank Battalion

With the new Bulge compilations on the horizon, one of the new lists being added to the Allied compilation are light and medium tank companies from the 761st Tank Battalion - the first African-American armored unit to see combat in the U.S. Army. The unit has a very fascinating history fighting essentially their own version of a "two-front war" against prejudice and bigotry at home and against the Germans in Europe. I won't go through the unit's full history here, but there are several good books covering the unit including Joe Wilson's The 761st Black Panther Tank Battalion in World War II and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's (yes THAT Kareem) Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes.


Organized as a independent battalion with four combat companies and an HQ, the unit used a variety of medium and light tanks, though the exact mix was different than seen in some of the standard armored divisions. Companies A, B, and C were medium tank companies and used a variety of Sherman tanks. Company D was a light tank company equipped with Stuart tanks until the end of the war.




The document above shows the mix of tanks fielded by the Battalion's medium tank companies in early February 1945. Many of the tanks in the battalion were 76mm versions of the M4A1 and M4A3 tanks. The M4A1E6 is just a M4A1 (76mm) Sherman (US044) - the nomenclature was changed during the war. This tank used to be available in a boxed set, but it appears the set has been discontinued. Likewise, the M4A3E6 is the M4A3 (76mm) Sherman (UBX44).  The unit also had a couple of 75mm armed M4A1 tanks (US042). At this point the Battalion unusually received several M4A4 tanks as replacements which can be replicated using the British Sherman Armoured Platoon (BBX27) - though you'll need to swap out commanders for U.S. ones.


Published roughly a month later, the document above shows how rapidly the Battalion's inventory could change, and it includes details about the Battalion HQ and Company D inventories as well. The M4A4 tanks are gone at this point, and some M4A3 75mm tanks are now spread across the platoons. For these, you can use the M4A3 (late) Platoon (UBX44) or maybe even the M4A3 Sherman Platoon (UBX29). It will to a certain extent depend on whether the early and late versions are options in the final list. Each company is also equipped with a couple of M4A3E8 76mm "Easy Eight" Shermans (UBX26) and one or two M4A3E2 "Jumbo" tanks (UBX25) or (US056), though it appears that all of the Jumbo's fielded by the 761st were of the 75mm variety - at least based on available data.


The 105mm tanks are evenly split between M4A3 (US052) or (UBX44) and M4A1 variants (which would likely require a kitbash using an M4A1 hull (US042) with the 105mm turret from one of the (UBX44) tanks). Company D, also known as the "Mosquito Fleet," was equipped with the M5A1 Stuart (US005). I've done a few conversions to replicate the later M5A1 tanks - though that was purely a personal choice.


The 761st fought from early October 1944 through the end of the war, so the vehicles were issued, maintained, repaired, modified, and repainted several times during the course of the unit's deployment.   Base colors for the tanks should be the standard Olive Drab color, corresponding "Sherman Drab" in the new Colours of War paint range or Brown Violet (887) in the Vallejo range. Many tanks were also camouflaged with a darker shade, which appears to have been black, or a very dark gray as can be seen in the photograph below from the Battle of the Bulge (or its immediate aftermath).


Liberal use of stowage was also very common on 761st tanks as can be seen in the photo above. Though actual sandbags are rarely seen in photographs, the report above clearly states that tanks received some sandbags, so feel free to use the Sherman Improvised Armor (US671) sprue as needed. Some tanks received personalized markings, like Charlie Company's "Cool Stud" tank (pictured in April or May 1945). Interestingly enough, some of the decals required to mark this tank have been hiding in plain sight for years in the American Decals (US941) set.


Fielding a force based on the 761st Tank Battalion offers the player a lot of options - as is common with most of the Late War U.S. Armored lists. Most of what anyone would need to get going on these lists ahead of time is already available - though obviously we'll have to wait for the official rules to understand any particular platoon limitations and point values. Personally, I may end up making most of the Battalion before I'm done as I've been waiting for this list to hit general release for a while!






Dr. Michael McSwiney has been playing wargames since the early 1980's and Flames of War since 2008. He is an author, contributor, and former playtester for Battlefront and maintains his own wargaming blog Miniature Ordnance Review.







6 comments:

Dan H said...

This is very helpful, I been running 761st theme force since I started playing. Really glad to see something formally being added. This thread really helps give alot of great information. Lots of work ahead now to make my force more accurate when it comes to the specific tanks in use. My grand father served with the Buffalo soldiers,every US unit I have is theme by a segregated unit in his honor.

Yegr said...

The FV option looks cost-efficient, but the FT looks like "we gabe you this option, but we really don't think anybody will ise it" - due to the cost exceeding the CV cost in other books.

Fingolfen said...

Dan - really happy that this article helped you out. I've always been amazed by the courage and honor of the segregated units.

Fingolfen said...

Yegr - wait for the design notes... :-)

M1le said...

Do they get any special characters?

ian solo said...

Hello, somebody have it some information for help me?
A friend of mine, have his grand father who was in armored forces during WWII.
He participated to Normandy, my friend neither known his grand father, because after the Normandy, his grand father was in Germany.
He was an African American soldier, my friend have only one photo, and we can see that, he was in armored forces, there was an armored shoulder patch on his jacket, the combat uniform is for armored troop: armored suit, armored light helmet, grease gun, aviation goggle, etc.. we can't determine the unit on the patch! His name is Robert Haynes, my friend have only this information (one photo), and wish to know more about his grand father!
Somebody can helped? Thank you. Yann (from France)

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