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The Captainís Tank - Chris Sarno Memoir

When the peace talks broke down, the 1st Tank Battalion moved out of Reserve and back up into the Punchbowlís combat zone. In October, Able Company went on line for a month, going on daily direct fire missions. With Rendoza out of action and shipped out to recuperate in the Naval Hospital at Yokosuka, Japan, Chris Sarno volunteered to be the assistant driver on A-41 tank, which was the captainís tank. Sarno first served as the tankís assistant driver and loader, depending on the mission for the day. "I was the low man on the pole, but thatís how tank crews are broken in," he explained. "You either started as a loaderómost of the time as loadersóand you ran the radio." When Sarno came aboard Captain Snellís tank A-41, Pfc. Lionel Durk was the driver; Sergeant Carr was gunner; and Pfc. Ray Kapinski was loader.

A tank crew consisted of five Marines, including a driver and assistant driver. In the turret, there was a loader for the 90 and the coaxial turret .30 caliber turret machine gun. There was also a gunner who was sitting down even lower than the loader. "He was really jammed in there with a telescope and a periscope and the trigger mechanism to fire the 90," Sarno said. Above the gunner was the tank commander seat. He had a cupola with prisms so that he could have a 360 degree view of the terrain around the tank. Inside the driverís compartment, there were dual controls. Using a "joy stick" with his right hand, the driver controlled reverse, neutral, first and second gears. "The same prevailed on the assistant driverís side," Sarno explained. "Only he had to use his left hand if the driver got incapacitated. But I never saw that - most of the time I was the driver."

Beneath the drivers were escape hatches that (theoretically) could be used to get out of the tank in case something went wrong with the turret hatch. "But," said Sarno, "we found out that when we hit mines, they were so powerful the force would drive the whole hatch in under the driverís or assistant driverís legs." He said that the driverís legs could be crushed against the top of his compartment. Able Company personnel discovered this when Red Wheelerís tank hit a mine back in July. "After that," explained Sarno, "they started welding sprockets below both escape hatches so we couldnít come out underneath. We had to come out of the top of the turret. It was a problem, but it did save the driverís legs if the tank hit a mine in the future."

Sarno saw several tanks hit mines, but he said that Tank 41 was never hit. "We had shrapnel from artillery hitting us, and sometimes there was shrapnel from small arms such as machine guns," he said. "But that couldnít penetrate the tank unless the artillery round was a direct hit on the turret or the engine doors. That could disable us. We had a couple of tanks that took direct hits from artilleryóone on the eastern front and two on the western front. They were hit on top of their engines and they were totaled."


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