He Watched World War II Through a Sherman Tank. This Is What He Saw.

December 14, 2019 Topic: History Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: World War IISherman TankNorth AfricaSicilyNormandy

He Watched World War II Through a Sherman Tank. This Is What He Saw.

And what a view it was.

He also grew wary of the local Tunisians, who continuously switched support between the Americans and the Axis. Whenever they visited Bromberg’s unit, the Americans could expect an enemy artillery barrage. “Some of our fellows shot them,” he said.

Bromberg could deal with enemy tanks and artillery barrages, but the one thing he truly feared was German airplanes, which attacked nightly. They dominated the sky. One of the German’s favorite tricks was to fly over the American lines and flick their lights in hopes that Americans would fire at them, revealing their positions. “That scared me the most of the whole war,” he said.

His stint at the front over, Bromberg returned to his unit and trained for the invasion of Sicily, slated for July 9, 1943. As part of Italy, Sicily would be the first chunk of Axis real estate attacked by the Western Allies. The newly created American Seventh Army, under Patton, would assault the Gela beaches. The 2nd Armored Division would support the 3rd Infantry Division near the town of Licata, but Bromberg would not be in a position to support anyone.

Heading to the shore in a Landing Ship, Tank (LST), Bromberg heard an enemy airplane drop a bomb. “The next thing I know, we’re hit,” he recalled. His buddy, a tanker named Pippard, grabbed Bromberg, and the two went over the side to a waiting DUKW—an amphibious truck. They made it to shore and promptly got lost. With no tank, the two men spent the next two weeks away from the war, surviving on lemons, cantaloupes, and whatever they could obtain from the locals.

When American trucks passed by they would yell, and the GIs would throw them rations. Technically Absent Without Leave (AWOL), the two men enjoyed themselves until the division sent a truck to the rear looking for stragglers. They climbed aboard, and when Bromberg reported to his captain, the officer merely asked him if he was okay.

Back in the war, Bromberg climbed into a tank for the drive on Palermo in northern Sicily. If Patton could take the port city, he would effectively cut the island in half and possess a staging area to attack Messina on the northeast corner of the island.

Bromberg found the fighting to Palermo surprisingly light. The Italian soldiers readily surrendered to the Americans. “Half we didn’t even take prisoner,” he said, and let the Italians go. At one roadblock, Italian soldiers stepped out onto the highway and warned Bromberg’s crew about a German antitank gun up ahead. “We didn’t go any farther.”

Bromberg’s tank entered Palermo on July 22 to the cheers of its citizens. “It was like a big parade,” he recalled. “They were giving us wine.” He got out of his tank and went into a house for a meal. Reaching Palermo capped off a two-week drive from the Gela beaches. The campaign would now turn east, but with the mountainous terrain blocking the way the 2nd Armored remained in Palermo with occupation duties. “Sicily was not too much fighting,” said Bromberg, “but good experience.”

The Sicily campaign ended on August 17, 1943, when Patton’s forces reached Messina hours before the British under General Bernard Law Montgomery. The invasion of Italy soon followed, but the armor support mission on the peninsula went to the 1st Armored Division.

As casualties mounted on the Continent, more and more tankers from Bromberg’s division were sent in as replacements, but he was not one of them. Instead, he and the rest of his division set sail for England and a new battlefield.

Bromberg arrived in England in November 1943 and trained with his unit for the coming invasion of France. He dreaded it, having seen war and knowing it was only a matter of time before he might be its next victim. He enjoyed England, a step up from the deserts of North Africa and the poverty of Sicily.

Feeling he had only weeks to live once he landed in France, he became fatalistic. He spent a two-week furlough in Manchester trying to forget the war through alcohol. “I didn’t care about anything,” he recalled. “I just carried on and drank and carried on.” Later, at a pub in London Bromberg passed out from drinking, and the patrons laid him on some barstools while they debated whether to take care of him or “Throw the Yank out!”

When it came to women, Bromberg’s company commander, Captain Curtis Clark, did not believe in American soldiers marrying foreigners and demanded the men get his permission before proposing to any girl. Bromberg frustrated Clark by proposing to every girl he dated. “I had a good time,” he said. Clark was soon promoted, and Fox Company received a new commander for the invasion of France: Captain William A. Nicholson.

June 6, 1944, D-Day, was mostly an infantrymen’s battle, with grunts fighting to open the draws on Omaha Beach and the causeways on Utah Beach with the help of independent tank battalions. Once the beaches were secured, armored divisions slowly joined the battle.

Bromberg’s tank rolled out of the belly of an LST and roared across Utah Beach on June 12, D+6. Hedgerows—five-foot-high earthen banks topped with trees and bushes—divided the Norman countryside and served as perfect defensive positions for the Germans. Every time the Americans broke through to a field surrounded by hedgerows, the Germans would simply fall back to the next set of hedgerows.

In the confused fighting, Bromberg often saw tanks burning beside him. “I was lucky,” he said about surviving the fight. He fired his machine gun at every bush or tree he saw. “I didn’t take any chances. Each hedgerow was a battlefield.”

The hedgerows initially proved a problem for American tankers. Rolling over the high banks exposed the tanks’ thin underbelly armor, which the Germans could penetrate with a Panzerfaust—a single-shot, shoulder-fired antitank weapon. Bromberg’s Fox Company entered the hedgerows with 17 tanks. They were soon reduced to four. “Our tanks were getting knocked out so fast,” he said.

Rank spared no one. On June 13, an enemy sniper killed Captain Nicholson. “He was so mature,” Bromberg recalled, who thought the commander was 30 or 40 years old. He later discovered Nicholson was only in his 20s. “He looked older.”

Lieutenant William H. Schwartz, the leader of Bromberg’s 2nd Platoon, temporarily took charge of the company until Captain Douglas J. Richardson took over.

Schwartz commanded Bromberg’s tank. “He was born for combat,” said Bromberg. “I didn’t like him as a person, but I knew if I stayed in his tank I’d stay alive.” Once Richardson took command, he called on 2nd Platoon for almost every mission, to a point where it became a company joke. “We’d pull out, and they’d laugh,” said Bromberg.

On June 29, Tech. Sgt. Ole E. Mancuso from Captain Richardson’s tank told Bromberg he needed a bow gunner. Bromberg refused, not wanting to leave Schwartz. Later that day, a German antitank shell smashed into the side of Bromberg’s tank. He quickly climbed out and found Schwartz wounded. Medics ran to the officer and treated him, but when they tried to take him off the battlefield he fought them. “They had to drag him away,” said Bromberg.

The next day, Richardson’s tank took a hit that killed both him and Sergeant Mancuso.

Schwartz quickly returned from the hospital and took over the company. One of his first actions was to tell his old 2nd Platoon that they were picked for every mission because Richardson hated him and hoped that he might get killed. Bromberg wrote an article about the incident and submitted it to the division magazine, but the editors declined to publish it. “They said it was too personal,” said Bromberg.

The tankers first used a bulldozer tank to break through the hedgerows. Bromberg was not impressed. When he saw his first bulldozer tank he said to the driver: “You poor bastard, you’re going to be the first person they knock off.” Bromberg was wrong. When the tank plowed through an enemy hedgerow, the Germans let it through, then hit the succeeding tanks.

The real solution came when engineers welded metal prongs to the front of their tanks like a set of tusks. A tank would ram the hedge bank, and the prongs would dig in and punch a hole through. These tanks became known as Rhino tanks and would line up three or four abreast and punch through the hedgerow at the same time. “That’s how we got through the hedgerows,” explained Bromberg.

While the Rhino tanks solved the tactical problem of the hedgerows, Allied commanders sought to solve the problem strategically. General Omar Bradley, the commander of the American First Army, planned to use heavy bombers to crack a hole in the German line between the French towns of Periers and St. Lo which tanks and infantry could pour through—Operation Cobra.

The 2nd Armored Division went into reserve near Carentan, where Bromberg and his comrades took their first showers in a month and received new uniforms. On July 25, more than a thousand Allied bombers flew over Bromberg’s position and unleashed an inferno of bombs on the Germans––and accidentally on some Americans. “There were so many planes,” recalled Bromberg. “You couldn’t see the sky.”