Death Traps: The Survival of an American Armored Division in World War II by Belton Y Cooper. Presidio Press (http://www.presidiopress.com), P.O. Box 1764, Novato, California 94948, 1998, 352 pages, $28.95 (hardcover).
In early 1944, the US Army faced a critical decision regarding its armored forces: should it retain the M4 Sherman as its primary tank or accelerate production of the new M26 Pershing heavy tank? Although many armored commanders favored the Pershing, the tank debate continued until Lt Gen George S. Patton, the Army's leading tank "expert," entered the fray. Patton favored the smaller (and supposedly more mobile) Sherman, noting that "tanks were not supposed to fight other tanks, but bypass them if possible, and attack enemy objectives in the rear." Ultimately, senior Allied commanders--including Gen Dwight Eisenhower--backed Patton and decided to increase production of the Sherman. It remains one of the most disastrous choices of World War II--arguably a decision that lengthened the war and became a literal death sentence for thousands of tank-crew members.
The consequences of the Sherman decision are brutally detailed in Belton Cooper's vivid memoir Death Traps. A maintenance officer who served in the legendary Third Armored Division ("Spearhead"), Cooper was charged with the critical task of locating damaged Shermans, directing their recovery, and ensuring the flow of new or repaired tanks to frontline units. From the Normandy invasion to V-E day, Cooper witnessed the folly of Patton's logic firsthand. The author calculates (with only a touch of irony) that he "has seen more knocked out tanks than any other living American." His eyewitness observations...
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