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Posted: 4/15/2006 4:17:16 PM EST
Now out in paperback: Death Traps : The Survival of an American Armored Division in World War II

Wow, this a great books for those who like technical military history: a first-hand account by an ordnance officer about retuning combat-damaged US tanks to operational status in the field (this had to be done since the loss rate for the M-4 Sherman was five times higher than expected. There are also lots of observations about German tanks and their clear superiority over the Sherman, and the incorrect decision to hold back production of the M-26 Pershing, an all-around better tank and fully the equal of the Panzers. The author fingers General Patton as one of the main reasons for failure to get the T-26 into full production; I knew General McNair was mostly responsible for the failed "tank destroyer" doctrine, but Patton's involvement in supressing the T-26 came as a suprise. Since the author was responsible for hosing out the body parts of dead Americans from defeated M-4s, he has harsh words for those who kept the best equipment out of the hands of the troops. And he is not talking out his ass either-this book was written by reconstructing his Ordnace reporting logs, which he compiled on a daily basis and are official documents.

Highly reccomended.

book on amazon

From Publishers Weekly
Without a doubt, this is one of the finest WWII memoirs ever written by an American junior officer. Lieutenant Cooper served with the 3rd Armored Division's Maintenance Battalion and saw action from Normandy to Germany in 1944-1945. One of the army's two heavy armored divisions, the 3rd lost 648 M4 Shermans and had another 700 tanks damaged, repaired and put back in service by the time the shooting ended in May 1945. Cooper, as one of the division's three ordnance liaison officers, was in the midst of the division's tank recovery operations. He writes about the tenacity of the maintenance mechanics and their ability to improvise and devise their own policies. Cooper is unsparing in his criticism of George S. Patton and other generals whose belief in mobility over heavy armor kept the Sherman medium tank as the standard. American tank crews quickly learned that these "death traps" were no match for heavier German tanks such as the Panther and King Tiger. Cooper describes the difficult maneuvering in the hedgerow country, the confusion of the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of Nordhausen concentration camp and the destruction of an entire column of tanks and other vehicles. Cooper demonstrates convincingly that it was the unheralded work of the maintenance section that allowed the 3rd Armored Division to maintain its combat effectiveness. This detailed story will become a classic of WWII history and required reading for anyone interested in armored warfare.
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 5:05:53 PM EST
Sounds like an interesting read.
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 5:14:36 PM EST
Belton Cooper has been interviewed by people from the History Channel a number of times and I always enjoy hearing his perspective on the war and tales of his experiences.

He saw some fucked up shit, make no mistake.
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 5:20:30 PM EST
That does sound interesting.

I generally don't like "Axe grinding" books, but,
I'll check it out.
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 5:23:20 PM EST
[Last Edit: 4/15/2006 5:24:26 PM EST by Tehranasaurus_Rex]
Many years ago I worked with an old guy who had been a tanker in WWII. Before D-Day his unit had been told the Sherman was as good as the German tanks. Well after a couple of weeks of getting shot to shit they were really confused, after all, the Brass had said the Sherman could knock out German tanks in a stand up fight.

So, one day they decided to try out a Sherman against a Panther that had been abandoned. They stood off at 400 yds from the front of the Panther and fired at it, 75mm shell richocetted off. So they came up to 100yds and tried again, shell bounced off again. OK, try it at point blank, still the shell just bounced off, no penetration. At this point he said, they knew they had a problem, a Panther could shoot straight through the front of a Sherman at 2000yds.
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 5:46:07 PM EST

Originally Posted By Goonboss:
That does sound interesting.

I generally don't like "Axe grinding" books, but,
I'll check it out.



It's really not an axe-grinding book; only where the M-4 is cocerned, and it's really a small part of the book, which is mostly devoted to his day-to-day activities, as well as some "big picture" strategy stuff.. In fact, in his opinion, most other US combat equipment: artillery, wheeled vehicles, etc. was superior to the German stuff. That being said, in the "main US ground combat weapon"...the M-4 Sherman...was not, and who can blame him for pointing this out?
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 5:52:39 PM EST
I read it and completely agree with the sentiments expressed here.

Reads like a novel, almost, very interesting and complete.
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 5:56:16 PM EST
Very good book I read it a few years ago.
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 6:02:19 PM EST

Originally Posted By M1-Matt:
Very good book I read it a few years ago.



Yes, but now it's out in paperback for us cheap-skates.
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 6:09:35 PM EST
Tag.
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 6:25:35 PM EST
The author fingers General Patton as one of the main reasons for failure to get the T-26 into full production; I knew General McNair was mostly responsible for the failed "tank destroyer" doctrine, but Patton's involvement in supressing the T-26 came as a suprise.

How/why did they do that ?
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 7:20:20 PM EST

Originally Posted By weptek911:
The author fingers General Patton as one of the main reasons for failure to get the T-26 into full production; I knew General McNair was mostly responsible for the failed "tank destroyer" doctrine, but Patton's involvement in supressing the T-26 came as a suprise.

How/why did they do that ?



Patton was a sticler for following doctrine, and Armored Forces Doctrine stated that the main Tank units did not fight other tanks- their purpose was to rapidly exploit break-throughs, and shoot up the enemy's rear area units; therefore, tanks did not need heavy armor or anti-armor main gun. Destroying enemy tanks was the responsibility of Tank Destroyer Command.

Before the Normandy invasion, the T-26 was only availale in small numbers; films demonstraing it were shown to the invasion commanders in England, but Patton (who was in charge of Armored Forces) rejected it, saying it used too much gas, and did not fit into Armored Forces doctrine anyway. He could have had it placed into volume production, but preferred large numbers of M-4 Shermans instead.

The author points out that the most lowly US Army armor lieutenant could see that Germans would not fight according to our doctrine; OF COURSE our tanks would have to fight theirs. He also points out that Patton went ape shit when he found out that US tank crews were addiing field-expedient armor to their Shermans...that caused them to burn more gas, and wear out quicker. Get the picture? Patton did not give a damn about the men's lives...in that he was clearly an Army officer cast in the old frontal-assault mold...Men did not matter, Victory did.

Off topic, but I would rather have served under a more humane officer like MacArthur...compare Mac's casualty lists to Patton's and you will see why...Mac was much more sparing of his men's lives, and his fights were just as hard.
Link Posted: 4/15/2006 11:16:51 PM EST
Great book. I own it. Hard to believe that the man rode around with such an arsenal in his Jeep. Sad story though. He has been on the History Channel before talking about the M4.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 12:29:33 AM EST
Read it a couple years ago. Great book!
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 1:36:59 AM EST
Very good book.

The best things about the Sherman were:

1. Lots of them.

2. Good speed compared to other tanks.

3. Lots of them.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 2:07:03 AM EST

Originally Posted By AyeGuy:

Off topic, but I would rather have served under a more humane officer like MacArthur...compare Mac's casualty lists to Patton's and you will see why...Mac was much more sparing of his men's lives, and his fights were just as hard.

After reading RAID! The Untold Story of Patton's Secret Mission, I would agree with that statement.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 2:37:23 AM EST
[Last Edit: 4/16/2006 2:43:36 AM EST by raf]
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 2:45:24 AM EST
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 2:48:06 AM EST

Originally Posted By AyeGuy:

Originally Posted By M1-Matt:
Very good book I read it a few years ago.



Yes, but now it's out in paperback for us cheap-skates.



I read it for free.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 5:29:07 AM EST
My father drove a tank in the 1st Armored during WWII.

Lost two tanks in battle (North Africa, Italy), wounded (burned). He was lucky to get home alive.

Link Posted: 4/16/2006 5:41:33 AM EST
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 7:34:47 AM EST

Originally Posted By sherrick13:

The Pershing was not avaliable AT ALL before Normandy and didn't make it into combat until March 45. And then only about 20 saw combat. The M-4 Sherman fought the war.




But the T-26 COULD have been available at Normandy if those in charge had pushed for it; and, though Patton was not "in charge" of Armored forces, he did exert considerable influence.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 7:47:32 AM EST

Originally Posted By bytor94:
Very good book.

The best things about the Sherman were:

1. Lots of them.

2. Good speed compared to other tanks.

3. Lots of them.



Add dependable, esp when compared to the German tanks.
Fancy "too smart by half" over complicated tanks aren't as neat when you have a large % of your fleet broke down at any one time & your parts supply chain has scores of different designs to keep running.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 1:32:18 PM EST
Thanks for the info AyeGuy .
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 1:46:57 PM EST
I have not read the book but I have read a lot about this over the years and my understanding was it was a Joint Chiefs decision, based on shipping capacity more than anything else. The Sherman was easier and faster to ship and support at the end of a 4,000 mile supply line. And yes the JCS did trade off lives of men in tanks for ease of production/shipping/supply. Being armored crew was still safer than being an infantryman in Europe in WWII.

GunLvr
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 1:54:46 PM EST

Originally Posted By AyeGuy:

Originally Posted By sherrick13:

The Pershing was not avaliable AT ALL before Normandy and didn't make it into combat until March 45. And then only about 20 saw combat. The M-4 Sherman fought the war.




But the T-26 COULD have been available at Normandy if those in charge had pushed for it; and, though Patton was not "in charge" of Armored forces, he did exert considerable influence.


How long would it have taken to stop production of M-4s. Retool and then start up production of -26s. Then, oh by the way, you'd have to reconfigure all the tank support eqiupment for the invasion. Including the Mulberries, cranes, LSTs, LCTs, etc. Oh and then you'd have to haul more fuel. The main factor limiting our advance through France and Germany was fuel for much of the time. Yet another reason why Patton didn't want crews adding armor ad hoc. And finally, how many crews would have to be retrained for the new tank? And what about the logistics of that?

Those are some serious questions to answer only shortly before the largest amphibious assault in history, to that point. Patton was right, it would have been foolish to switch horses at that point.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 2:02:23 PM EST
[Last Edit: 4/16/2006 2:06:24 PM EST by DOW]
I've had that book in a paperback edition for well over a year now, excellent read.
Highly recommended.

ETA
Just checked my bookcase - my paperback (Presidio) edition was printed in 2000. Paperback's been out for a while apparently.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 2:07:43 PM EST
.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 4:17:33 PM EST

Originally Posted By dport:

How long would it have taken to stop production of M-4s. Retool and then start up production of -26s. Then, oh by the way, you'd have to reconfigure all the tank support eqiupment for the invasion. Including the Mulberries, cranes, LSTs, LCTs, etc. Oh and then you'd have to haul more fuel. The main factor limiting our advance through France and Germany was fuel for much of the time. Yet another reason why Patton didn't want crews adding armor ad hoc. And finally, how many crews would have to be retrained for the new tank? And what about the logistics of that?

Those are some serious questions to answer only shortly before the largest amphibious assault in history, to that point. Patton was right, it would have been foolish to switch horses at that point.



Whilst I see where you're coming from, if memory serves from reading the book, the decision exhibition was early enough that a lot of that trouble could have been dealt with. A lot of the other arguments, such as fuel and personnel training would have been mitigated because you wouldn't need so many Pershings to do the same job as that number of Shermans. Let's say there's a Panther up ahead you want to knock out: You need to send five Shermans up to kill it (average), with all the appropriate fuel usage, and twenty-five men. Or use one or two Pershings. Also, how much training was required for all the replacement crews that went into Shermans that had been knocked out? If in a tank which is harder to knock out, you need fewer crews to replace them, so you have an even greater economy.

The German emphasis on building turretless tank destroyers and support vehicles towards the end of the war came in large part because it was a lot quicker, simpler and cheaper to build a vehicle with no turret than one with.

NTM
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 4:23:28 PM EST

Originally Posted By Manic_Moran:
Whilst I see where you're coming from, if memory serves from reading the book, the decision exhibition was early enough that a lot of that trouble could have been dealt with. A lot of the other arguments, such as fuel and personnel training would have been mitigated because you wouldn't need so many Pershings to do the same job as that number of Shermans. Let's say there's a Panther up ahead you want to knock out: You need to send five Shermans up to kill it (average), with all the appropriate fuel usage, and twenty-five men. Or use one or two Pershings.


I don't think they would have wanted less tanks. They weren't living in a Rummy world. I think they would have wanted more tanks no matter what.

IIRC the Sherman was only really overmatched by the Panther and Tigers. The IV and earlier they matched up well with.


Also, how much training was required for all the replacement crews that went into Shermans that had been knocked out? If in a tank which is harder to knock out, you need fewer crews to replace them, so you have an even greater economy.


I'm not sure you could have accurately predicted what that ratio would be prior to the invasion.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 4:33:50 PM EST

Originally Posted By dport:

Originally Posted By AyeGuy:

Originally Posted By sherrick13:

The Pershing was not avaliable AT ALL before Normandy and didn't make it into combat until March 45. And then only about 20 saw combat. The M-4 Sherman fought the war.




But the T-26 COULD have been available at Normandy if those in charge had pushed for it; and, though Patton was not "in charge" of Armored forces, he did exert considerable influence.


How long would it have taken to stop production of M-4s. Retool and then start up production of -26s. Then, oh by the way, you'd have to reconfigure all the tank support eqiupment for the invasion. Including the Mulberries, cranes, LSTs, LCTs, etc. Oh and then you'd have to haul more fuel. The main factor limiting our advance through France and Germany was fuel for much of the time. Yet another reason why Patton didn't want crews adding armor ad hoc. And finally, how many crews would have to be retrained for the new tank? And what about the logistics of that?

Those are some serious questions to answer only shortly before the largest amphibious assault in history, to that point. Patton was right, it would have been foolish to switch horses at that point.



OF COURSE they would not have ENTIRELY stopped production of the M-4...they would have phased M-26 production in over time LIKE THEY ACTUALLY DID...only, at a faster pace.

The Germans were in a similar position. They did not stop Mk IV production all at once in favor of the Panther, they just gradually shifted resources to the newer tank.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 4:51:44 PM EST

Originally Posted By AyeGuy:

Originally Posted By M1-Matt:
Very good book I read it a few years ago.



Yes, but now it's out in paperback for us cheap-skates.


If you're really super cheap, you could probably check out the book at the local library, or just watch the movie. I think there was an excellent scene about fighting tanks 2/3 of the way through.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 4:58:58 PM EST

Originally Posted By warlord:

Originally Posted By AyeGuy:

Originally Posted By M1-Matt:
Very good book I read it a few years ago.



Yes, but now it's out in paperback for us cheap-skates.


If you're really super cheap, you could probably check out the book at the local library, or just watch the movie. I think there was an excellent scene about fighting tanks 2/3 of the way through.



What movie?
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 5:00:56 PM EST
[Last Edit: 4/16/2006 5:02:19 PM EST by warlord]

Originally Posted By AyeGuy:

Originally Posted By warlord:

Originally Posted By AyeGuy:

Originally Posted By M1-Matt:
Very good book I read it a few years ago.



Yes, but now it's out in paperback for us cheap-skates.


If you're really super cheap, you could probably check out the book at the local library, or just watch the movie. I think there was an excellent scene about fighting tanks 2/3 of the way through.



What movie?


Oh sorry forgot to key in, I think the name of the movie was the Battle of the Bulge?

There was tremendous battle between German Tigers and the USA Shermans that lasted at least 20 mines of celluloid time.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 5:01:43 PM EST
God bless Belton Cooper for his service. However:

1. He had his job and Patton had his.
2. Patton can't defend himself.
3. Cooper has 60 years of hindsight to work with.
4. If the German tanks were so fucking good, how come they lost?
5. If our tactics and equipment were so bad, how come we went from Normandy to the Elbe in less than 12 months?

WWII was the most complex human endeavor of all times. What makes people think that there was some sort of conspiracy to poorly arm the GI's? Cooper is not priviledged to know what was going on at the highest levels. He was a front-line junior officer.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 5:06:04 PM EST

Originally Posted By Will-Rogers:
.
.
4. If the German tanks were so fucking good, how come they lost?
5. If our tactics and equipment were so bad, how come we went from Normandy to the Elbe in less than 12 months?

WWII was the most complex human endeavor of all times. What makes people think that there was some sort of conspiracy to poorly arm the GI's? Cooper is not priviledged to know what was going on at the highest levels. He was a front-line junior officer.


I think a contributing factor was there was tremendous numbers of Shermans, on the order of hundereds of thousands, and only few thousands German Tanks of all descriptions and sizes. In plain talk, the Germans did have superior tanks but they were overwhelmed the shear number of Shermans.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 5:15:21 PM EST

Originally Posted By Will-Rogers:
God bless Belton Cooper for his service. However:

1. He had his job and Patton had his.

And in his job he saw first-hand the results of the decision to only field the M-4

2. Patton can't defend himself.

Than let another historian defend him and his decisions.

3. Cooper has 60 years of hindsight to work with.

Exactly. And in hindsight Patton and the military heirarchy was wrong.

4. If the German tanks were so fucking good, how come they lost?

They ran out of ammo before we ran out of men


5. If our tactics and equipment were so bad, how come we went from Normandy to the Elbe in less than 12 months?

The Germans were figting on two fronts and were vastly outnumbered

WWII was the most complex human endeavor of all times. What makes people think that there was some sort of conspiracy to poorly arm the GI's?

No conspiracy. Just poor decision-making.

Cooper is not priviledged to know what was going on at the highest levels. He was a front-line junior officer.

Exactly. His experience in the front line was horiffic. Later on, he did his research and exposed the working of what went on in the high command


Link Posted: 4/16/2006 6:24:31 PM EST
[Last Edit: 4/16/2006 6:25:06 PM EST by Manic_Moran]

Originally Posted By Will-Rogers:
4. If the German tanks were so fucking good, how come they lost?



Not the point. the point is that a lot more American soldiers died than would have otherwise been the case.


5. If our tactics and equipment were so bad, how come we went from Normandy to the Elbe in less than 12 months?


The Germans went from the Elbe to Normandy in 12 days... Admittedly, they weren't distracted by having to send the majority of their forces to meet the Russians back then. France was a bit of a side-show in 1944/45.


WWII was the most complex human endeavor of all times. What makes people think that there was some sort of conspiracy to poorly arm the GI's?


He doesn't claim conspiracy. He claims that Patton made his views known, that they were contrary to the views of other senior officers, but since Patton had influence, he won.
He claims Patton was wrong, the other officers were right, and the wrong decision was carried out.

Link Posted: 4/16/2006 6:33:58 PM EST
The more I read this stuff the more I believe having lots of Shermans was the way to go. The US tank wasn't there to look for German tanks (which were often times quite scarce) but to assist the infantry and help them against German infantry and fortifications.

Our best tank-killing weapons must have been planes--B-17s to bomb the German armor and steel and fuel factories, and P-47s to kill German tanks and trains transporting tanks and their ammo and fuel.

GunLvr
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 6:40:08 PM EST
Excellent book. Definatly worth the read.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 7:04:02 PM EST
One hell of a read. Seen Cooper on the History channel and I had to have the book. I think about 7 people have read it now besides myself. All of them thought it was an excellent book including two WW2 vets I know.
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 8:00:00 PM EST
If you read enough books about WWII or watch enough of the Hitler Channel (I mean History Channel) you would be tempted to think that we lost.

The Japs caught us with our pants down and damned near destroyed the Pacific Fleet.
The German U-boat campaign damn near ended the Atlantic war in 1942.
We almost didn't win at Midway.
We didn't do particularly well in North Africa.
The Italian campaign was a meatgrinder.
We never should have won any of the Pacific island battles (Tarawa, Pelelieu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa...).
Patton's siege of Metz was a mistake.
We almost pulled out of Omaha beach when Omar Bradley saw how bad it was.
The 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions were so hopelessly scatterd by the wind in their drop zones that they almost were annihilated on the ground (and in the air).
The Battle of the Bulge almost worked (for the Germans).
Our tanks were not as good as the Germans'.
Our piston planes were no match for the German jet fighters.
We only had the two atomic bombs that we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when Japan surrendered.
We never had enough landing craft to do everything we wanted/needed to do; decisions were constantly being changed to send the next batch of Higgins boats to MacArthur or Eisenhower.
Casual campaign comments in 1944 almost alerted the Japs to the fact that we had broken their codes.
Kamikazees might have turned the tide in the Pacific.

Etc., etc.

We will never know about the effect of any one or the other of these things; WWII WAS the most complex undertaking of recorded human history. Think of all the things that came of it. Radar. Antibiotics in industrial quantities. Atomic power in all its forms. Jet aircraft. The GI Bill (transformed American Society). Submarine warfare. Amphibious landings. Aircraft carriers.

How did we win?

Could we ever do it again?
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 8:11:34 PM EST

Originally Posted By GunLvrPHD:
The more I read this stuff the more I believe having lots of Shermans was the way to go. The US tank wasn't there to look for German tanks (which were often times quite scarce) but to assist the infantry and help them against German infantry and fortifications.

Our best tank-killing weapons must have been planes--B-17s to bomb the German armor and steel and fuel factories, and P-47s to kill German tanks and trains transporting tanks and their ammo and fuel.

GunLvr



That wouldn't have been much consolation to the guy in the Sherman when he did meet a Panther. "Damnit, the Brass told me that the factories were bombed out, and the supply lines cut. We weren't going to need a big gun or more armour!"

German tank production actually increased throughout the bombing campaign.

NTM
Link Posted: 4/16/2006 8:11:39 PM EST
The next big wars that matter will be won by those who think in the long term. Like breeding, for instance (demographics)...

Do WE do that?

People who do: Chinese, Moslems...Mexicans?
Link Posted: 4/17/2006 8:27:31 AM EST

Originally Posted By Manic_Moran:

Originally Posted By GunLvrPHD:
The more I read this stuff the more I believe having lots of Shermans was the way to go. The US tank wasn't there to look for German tanks (which were often times quite scarce) but to assist the infantry and help them against German infantry and fortifications.

Our best tank-killing weapons must have been planes--B-17s to bomb the German armor and steel and fuel factories, and P-47s to kill German tanks and trains transporting tanks and their ammo and fuel.

GunLvr



That wouldn't have been much consolation to the guy in the Sherman when he did meet a Panther. "Damnit, the Brass told me that the factories were bombed out, and the supply lines cut. We weren't going to need a big gun or more armour!"

German tank production actually increased throughout the bombing campaign.

NTM



I have to wonder if for every Panther a Sherman ran into on the battlefield how many Panthers were eliminated by strategic and tactical bombing. German production of most things (except fuel) rose in 43-44 but would have been much much higher in the absence of bombing.
Link Posted: 4/17/2006 9:02:56 AM EST

Originally Posted By Manic_Moran:
[The Germans went from the Elbe to Normandy in 12 days... Admittedly, they weren't distracted by having to send the majority of their forces to meet the Russians back then. France was a bit of a side-show in 1944/45.


Curiously, the Germans actually had inferior tanks to the French at the time.
Link Posted: 4/17/2006 9:29:51 AM EST
Any of you guys know WHY the M1 Abrahms was designed so absolutley over the top in capability? It stretches back to the experiences of a group of young Officers in the ETO in their Shermans getting shot to shit by vastly better German tanks. They swore that if they ever had the opportunity to influence things, never again would their men go to war in second rate tanks.

And the name of those men? General James H Polk, General Welborn G Dolvin and Major General William R Desobry, the 'fathers' of the M1.

As General Dolvin recalls in the book 'King of the Killing Zone' about fighting German tanks in his Sherman.

"The thing that really fried your ass, believe me, is you go into battle and get the first hit and you see it richocet off. And you know that big bastard is going to turn his turret around and the next one is going to go right through you. And that's discouraging. You need a gun. The fellow riding in the tank deserves to win if he gets the first hit. That's all their is to it".

So was Patton wrong? It would seem the Army Brass thought so when they designed the M1.
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