The 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Kindle)
Fighting on Both Fronts
The 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion was activated on 25 July 1942 at Camp Carson, USA and, like many other tank destroyer battalions, would be sent to Europe. It saw combat in France, where a platoon earned the Distinguished Unit Citation, and later continued to fight gallantly in Germany and Austria until the war was over.
However, unlike many other tank destroyer battalions that fought in the Second World War, this unit was crewed only by black soldiers. The men had been subjected to racism from their countrymen during training, although the battalion did eventually win the respect of the white soldiers they fought alongside. When the third platoon deployed their guns on the slopes near Climbach, France, they weren’t just fighting against the Germans, but also against any prejudices that their white countrymen might have had.
Having earned the respect of the 103d Infantry Division, the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion shared in their triumphs and tragedies. So when the division needed to retreat during a blizzard, or when Task Force Rhine pushed its way across the German plains, or when the division suffered heavy losses at Schillersdorf, the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion was there with them.
Included in this book are lists of medals awarded to the men during the war, as well as a list of casualties and those that served in the unit.
“The 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion” is a scholarly work where quite some research has gone into. The book provides some interesting perspectives on the doctrinal development and use of Tank Destroyers during WWII. It also gives a short historical overview of the use of segregated units within the US Army during WWII in general. This is followed by a chronological account of the key events experienced by one of the segregated units from its activation throughout the European theatre of war up until the end of WWII. Having read quite some books on WWII, this book provides some new interesting insights and is a recommended read.Thijs ter Horst
The African-American World War II experience in one compelling bookRuud Brujins
Books about the Second World War often focus on the vanguard forces like armour and paratroopers and rarely on the less glamourous branches of the army. The American tank destroyer arm was one of such branches. Raised as a countermeasure for the imagined German tank fleets, it became an orphan of the army when the German armoured threat did not materialize. Within the tank destroyer arm, the ‘colored’ or ‘negro’ troops were orphans within a superfluous force. It is in this light remarkable that Samuel de Korte managed to write a compelling history of one of these ‘black’ destroyer battalions.
Military historian Samuel de Korte [follow him: De Korte Geschiedenis] wrote his thesis about the representation of African-American soldiers during the Second World War. He uses his extensive knowledge about the war experience of African-Americans to write a unit-history of the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion. These soldiers did not only had to fight the Germans on the battlefield but also fight against the prejudices of their fellow White citizens. African-Americans were widely seen as inferior in the 1940s and these perceptions were also widespread within the military. African-Americans were discouraged from combat training and often relegated to rear-guard duties like the ordnance branch.
The fact that the tank destroyer force soon after its inception proved to be superfluous made the position of the African-American battalions rather precarious. These battalions seemed first in line for disbandment, which was bad for morale. The fact that African-American battalions were also less likely to be sent overseas was also not very encouraging – why would you perform in training if the chance of deployment in battle was very low? De Korte describes vividly the experience of African-Americans in training, the discrimination in the army and the disappointments of the many postponements in shipment oversea.
The 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion finally arrived in Lorraine in November 1944 as a unit with towed cannons rather than self-propelled guns. As a result, they were used as direct artillery support for the infantry in the frontline rather than their intended anti-tank role. The description of their experience in Alsace-Lorraine between November 1944 and March 1945 gives an unique insight in the war on that front, including the German counterattacks in January 1945. The 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion matured quickly and proved itself to be a valuable asset. They became a valued support for the 103th Infantry Division and got praise from the chain of command up to the general of the 7th Army himself.
Samuel de Korte did a great job in collecting such a rich array of sources, from archival material to soldier’s letters and newspaper clippings. By the end of the book, you have a clear understanding of the wartime experience of both the tank destroyer branch as the role of the African-Americans soldiers within that branch. In the final chapters, he even makes a comparison with similar tank destroyer battalions and he tells about the post-war experience of the many veterans. The African-American soldiers generally came back with more self-confidence and often played an important role in the organisation of the African-American community on a local level.
The book is an easy read for a wide audience but it contains a lot of gems for the more experienced reader regarding the Second World War. It is a standard work in the understanding of the war experience of the African-American soldier in both their personal experience as their unit combat performance. Reading this more than 200 page book has certainly taught me a lot! Besides the valuable reading experience, the book contains a nice section of photographs and is printed in hardcover with a beautiful full-colour dustjacket. Warmly recommended!