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Able Company, 1st Battalion - Chris Sarno Memoir

In Korea, Sarno’s world only revolved around Able Company, 1st Tank Battalion. The Marines had five tank companies in Korea: Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, and Flames. The five of them made up the 1st Marine Division’s one tank battalion for supporting arms, along with Headquarters and Service Companies (mechanics and S-2 officers). "A company was twenty tanks," explained Sarno. "A platoon of tanks consisted of five tanks. The regiments had five tanks each. These five tanks were complemented with a 75mm recoilless rifle company of grunts called ‘anti-tank companies.’ The tank battalion was assigned to help any Main Line of Resistance (MLR) unit out, but sometimes the tanks would also go out by themselves on direct fire missions." Details on any given day about what a tank company did versus enemy forces was recorded in Command Diaries by the tank reconnaissance group and clerks. "Mundane happenings were not included," Sarno said.

The photo at left shows the Able Companyon the move in the Soyang-gang River area, Eastern Front, September 1951.

Able Company was in a Reserve area some 70 miles north of Chunchon when Sarno arrived in Korea. "The first peace talks were in progress," explained Sarno. "So there was no shooting going on. But that meant nothing to me. As long as I was there, to me it was total war. But the whole division was non-combatant at the time." Now that they were moving up closer to the front line, the new arrivals were given an M-1 rifle with two clips of ammunition for the trip up to Able Company. "It was all mountainous territory," Sarno recalled. "Everything was shattered. Whatever hamlets we went through were gutted or destroyed. There was nobody living there. Everybody was stuck in Pusan, I guess." They had no access to or dealings with South Korean civilians. Able Company was strictly a combat tank outfit.

Able Company had three Sherman tanks with a dozer blade on the front of each of them. The Shermans also had a 105 major weapon. The rest of the tanks in the company were mostly M-46 Pattons and a few M-26 Pershings (forerunner to the M-46A1 Patton Series tank). The Pershings had 90s in the turret, but the driving compartment, suspension system, engine, and transmission were different than those of an M-46. "The Pershing still had those two hand grips to drive it," explained Sarno. "The M-26 had to have an expert driver to double clutch and ease that accelerator perfectly. If you weren’t a good driver you could clip a transmission band easily, and you were disabled." The M-46 was fully-automatic with an 810 horsepower Continental engine. "In a few words," Sarno said, "the M-46 was a modern replica of the vaunted SS-German Tiger Tank. It had a lot of thrust," he recalled. "And there were no transmission bands problems. It was a different transmission. A beautiful tank. The M-46 was supreme in Korea versus the Russian T-34s. The German Tiger had an 88mm weapon, while the Patton had a 90mm trajectory velocity that would go in the front hull of a T-34, keep churning, and exit through the rear. An awesome weapon, the 90mm."

According to Sarno, the 1st Tank Battalion received all of its tanks from Army Ordnance. "We repainted the tanks with a deep green color and white numbering. ‘A’ Company started with A-11 to A-15 for the first platoon; A-21 to A-25 for the second platoon; A-31 to A-35 for the third platoon. Platoon headquarters tanks were numbered A-41 (commanding officer’s tank) and A-42 (executive officer’s tank). In addition, there were A-43, A-44, and A-45 Sherman dozer tanks. That was one entire tank company. B-C-D-and F were numbered in a similar manner. There was one retriever tank per company also. The three regimental AT-Company tanks were numbered 11-15 for the first regiment, 51-55 for the fifth regiment, and 71-75 for seventh regiment tanks. The US Army tanks that I saw had nicknames all over the turrets. Some even had the big teeth of ‘Jaws’ art/painted on the front slopeplates." Nose art of this type was not permitted on Marine tanks.


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