The desire to fight tanks barehanded began to leave the survivors

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

The best damn army outside the United States had no tanks, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), but they were brave:

Korean soldiers were as brave as any, but they soon found they had no weapons to halt the Russian-built T-34 tanks. The 2.36-inch rocket launchers furnished them by the U.S. Army could not be counted on to penetrate the Russian armor, and they were very weak in artillery.


ROK soldiers, seeing all else fail, seized packets of high explosive and threw themselves under tank treads, trying to disable the steel monsters. Others ran at the advancing tanks with satchel charges, or charges fixed to long poles. Still others leaped upon tank decks, and desperately attempted to pry open the turret hatches with iron bars and hooks, so that they might drop hand grenades inside. In open terrain, and against tanks deployed in number, such tactics were suicide. A tank or two slued aside or blew up, but the ROK soldiers died.

They died chopped down by the tank machine guns, or shot by the supporting NKPA infantry. They died shrieking under the tank treads. When almost a hundred had been killed in this manner, the desire to fight tanks barehanded began to leave the survivors.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    I would guess that the survivors were the ones in which the desire had been the weakest. When racing to your doom, it pays to trail the pack.

  2. Kirk says:

    The toy-like 2.36in original Bazooka should have been replaced during WWII. It was not, due to “reasons” that may have made sense in ’44, but by ’45, no longer did. If the Soviets had decided to keep pushing, and we’d had to fight them in Central Europe after the war? LOL… Whole thing would have been “interesting”. We just weren’t prepared for conventional war, having been swindled by all the shit-talkers plumping down for “Atomic Pushbutton Warfare”. The AT weapons were just a small part of it. The stuff we needed was stuck in development, and if we’d have had the sense to procure the so-called “Super-Bazooka”, or even just copy the German Panzerschreck, we’d have been a lot better off, even if it did take time to get the recoilless rifles ready.

    Among other things we should have had? The Claymore mine, for one: That obvious little innovation should have been invented and deployed during WWI or WWII. The crisis of “Banzai” attacks should have gotten someone thinking along the lines of a factory-built and portable fougasse, but it did not.

    I can’t speak for the modern ROK Army, but the old-school version from back then had held on to a lot of the Imperial Japanese Army mindset and ethos; suicide attacks would have been second-nature. As they said about the Soviets under Stalin, it took a very brave man to be a coward in the ROKA. Disappointment in your conduct could be “rewarded” with some rather draconian measures–Couple of stories I heard from a retired ROKA officer who’d had the misfortune to be a young farm boy drafted (literally…) out of the family rice paddy and handed a rifle? Man, you just don’t want to know the details. I don’t think a lot of our people had the first fucking clue what was going on inside the ranks of our protege Army, there. Per this witness, there were war crimes a-plenty committed on South Koreans by the ROKA, and a bunch of it was inflicted on their own troops. Civilians that got in the way? LOL… Yeah. They got treated with more leniency, but when there’s summary execution by torture for being late to formation? The “leniency” usually just means you get shot instead of slow-drowned in a winter river through a hole you had to cut in the ice yourself, in order to expedite matters.

    Koreans can be some brutal and inhumane bastards. Little-known fact of the WWII Pacific Theater is that the vast majority of the Japanese POW abuses were done by ethnic Koreans, which the Japanese considered to be brutes.

  3. Wang Wei Lin says:

    Inhumanity during war seems to be quite normal across Asia.

  4. Redan says:

    The Soviets had canine IEDs; they rigged dogs with explosive vests and trained them to run under tanks.

  5. Harry Jones says:

    War is hell and you cannot refine it, said a military leader who wisely focused on getting the nasty business over with as quickly as possible.

  6. Isegoria says:

    Those dog-bombs have come up here before:

    The trainers would starve the dogs, then train them to find food under a tank. The dogs quickly learned that being released from their pens meant to run out to where the training tank was parked and find some vittles. Once trained, the dogs would be fitted with a bomb attached to the back, and loosed into a field of oncoming German Panzers. When the dog climbed underneath the tank — where there was no armor — the bomb would detonate and gut the enemy vehicle.

    Realization of that plan was a little less successful. The dogs had been trained to look under a Soviet tank for food, and would sometimes be loosed into a battle just to turn around and find a friendly tank to climb under. Sometimes the dogs would spook at the rumble of a running diesel engine and run away from the battle. Sometimes the dogs just decided they didn’t want to go.

    Despite the problems, the Anti-tank dogs were successful at disabling a reported 300 Nazi tanks.

  7. Isegoria says:

    The birth of the bazooka is an interesting story. Then it went to our comrades on the Eastern Front — where the Germans captured copies and improved the design into the Panzerschreck.

  8. Kirk says:

    The whole story behind the shaped-charge is fascinating, really. It’s also one of those maddening “US military ineptitude” tales that is sadly typical.

    Charles Munroe was a US Navy civilian working at the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, CT. During his work as a chemist, he noticed that the incised letters on the guncotton blocks he was working with would be engraved on the surfaces of the steel targets they were placed on. Notes on this were published in 1900 in Popular Science Monthly, but were ignored for a long damn time.

    Time passed, and others in Europe took up work on the issue. Andres Mohaupt was one of them, and he eventually came to the US to offer up his “secret weapon” against the Germans. Germany managed to achieve the first real tactical use of the effect, when going after the defenses at Eben Emael, using hand-emplaced shaped charges to destroy the turrets and get entry into the forts. At the time, all that was a big mystery, but here came Mohaupt offering up the “secret”. That was the warhead that got mated up to the Bazooka’s rocket, and the US military was going to pay him huge money for it–Right up until the Navy patent lawyers got wind of it, did a document search, and found Munroe. Mohaupt wound up settling for pennies on the dollar for what he’d asked, took his toys, and went to Texas to work in the oil industry–Where his little shaped charges became key and essential to the oil industry, and are to this day a major necessity in the fracking industry.

    So, basically… The US essentially invented the modern shaped charge (some arguable use earlier in Europe with mining and black powder, but… Arguable.), and then let it languish until the absolute last second, and damn near bought their own innovation from the Europeans.

    Sadly, all too typical a “thing” in the US arms industry…

  9. Kirk says:

    Also, referring to those other posts about the Bazooka and its warheads…

    Shaped charges manifestly do NOT “burn through” anything. The heat is not high enough, and it’s ephemeral enough that such a mechanism of penetration is simply wrong. Sure, the resultant holes in the metal look an awful lot like they were burned through, but… There’s no way that’s even possible.

    What is basically happening is that the “jet” is formed into a spike of material, and driven at extremely high speeds and pressures into the material of the target, and as such, you get a mechanical “splash” effect that looks an awful lot like something melty went on. It did not–The materials never reach a point of temperature such that you could reasonably describe it as being a strictly thermal phenomenon. It’s not like you’re holding a oxy-acetylene torch to it–It’s more like you’re driving a straw into a palm tree during a hurricane with a really high wind.

    All sorts of interesting things can be done with this stuff, but it’s really not for open discussion where I’d want to be cited for being the source.

  10. Sam J. says:

    Shaped charges are like hydraulic jacks worked in reverse or levers. Big spread put explosive charge “levered” into a fast moving small jet.

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