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In this fascinating memoir William S. Triplet continues the saga begun in his earlier book, A Youth in the Meuse-Argonne: A Memoir, 1917-1918. After serving in World War I, Triplet chose to become a career military man and entered West Point. Upon graduation in 1924, his assignments were routine—to regiments in the Southwest and in Panama or as an officer in charge of Reserve Officers' Training Corps units or of men sent to a tank school. All this changed, however, when a new war opened in Europe.
From 1940 to1942, Triplet was assigned to the Infantry Board at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he engaged in testing new weapons and machines for the expanding army. He became a full colonel in December 1942. After leaving Benning he received posts with four armored forces: the Thirteenth Armored Division forming in the United States, an amphibious tank and troop carrier group training at Fort Ord, California, and the Second and Seventh Armored Divisions in Europe. His extraordinary abilities as a tank commander became evident in the Seventh Armored, where he took over a four-thousand-man unit known as Combat Command A. He was soon moving from triumph to triumph as he led his unit into Germany. Here was much room for professional judgment and decision, and the colonel was in his element. In the war's last days Triplet and his men fought their way to the Baltic, preventing many German troops from joining in the defense of Berlin against the advancing Soviet army.
Although Triplet was recommended for brigadier general, Dwight D. Eisenhower believed the U.S. Army had enough generals to finish the war; thus, the indomitable Triplet served out the few remaining years of his career as a colonel. After retiring in 1954, Triplet moved to Leesburg, Virginia, where he soon began to mull over his military experiences. Fascinated by the history he had witnessed, engaged by the attraction of writing about it, he recorded his memories with a combination of verve, thoughtfulness, and harsh judgments concerning ranking officers he considered incompetent— generals not excluded.
Through his annotations, Robert H. Ferrell provides the historical context for Triplet's experiences. Well written and completely absorbing, A Colonel in the Armored Divisions provides readers the rare opportunity to see firsthand what a real professional in the U.S. Army thought about America's preparation for and participation in the war against Germany and Japan.
The Infantry Board
I reported for duty to the president of the Infantry Board, Colonel Taylor, on December 4, 1940. Colonel Taylor always reminded me slightly of George Washington—features, reserve, and leadership. He gave me a general briefing on the mission of the board. The board proper was made up of experienced field officers who were known as the thinking section. As an appendage the test section was composed of company-grade officers (the nonthinking section) under Light Colonel "Count" Melasky. I was assigned to the nonthinking section to test vehicles and weapons as well as any other prototypes that were submitted to the board. I reported to Count Melasky, a well-built, heavyset middleweight, sandy haired, ruddy complexion, relaxed manner, and most courteous to his crew of junior officers. I was assigned to a metal desk in the basement of the headquarters of the Infantry School—the thinkers had individual rooms on the floor above. I was anxious to get to work but was advised by my classmate, Captain Chazal, who acted as supply officer and a sort of executive to the count, to take it easy, look over the shoulders of the other test officers, and learn the ropes.
The two years I spent in the test section of the board were the most interesting, entertaining, and probably useful that I have spent in the army. New ideas were welcomed by the chief, innovations praised, improvements on prototype equipment were encouraged. There were seldom deadlines or schedules to meet. Every officer worked on his projects in his own time and in case some hardthinking was required a day or two of doodling or feet on the desk was not questioned. The one requirement was absolute neutrality and honesty in test reports and recommendations: "Is it acceptable for field use by the infantry?"
The Molotov Cocktail, Fougasse, and Road Builder
The gasoline-filled-bottle bomb allegedly used by the Russians against tanks with great success was and still is the most over- and falsely praised weapon ever advertised by the press. Our reporters alleged that when a gallant Russki patriot lit the cloth fuse in the neck of the bottle and flung it to break on the German armor, the tank crew would hysterically fight their way out of the turret to avoid being roasted alive when the armor turned red and glowed with the heat. Then the engine would catch fire, the fuel tank would explode, and the ammunition fire would reduce the tank to a large glob of melted metal.
I was ordered to check these rumors out and invent a better incendiary bomb for the use of our infantrymen.
The first test was to check the alleged rise in temperature. I filled some two hundred bottles with gasoline and plugged the necks with cloth fuses. Clark and I went to the antitank range where the carcass of an obsolete M5 medium was used as the target. Thermometers placed in the fighting, driver, and engine compartments would register the heat increase of the melting armor.
We flung bottles to burst over the turret, the driver's apron, the air intakes, and when the flames had died checked the thermometers. No change or just a degree or two of increase. The outside of the armor was a little warmer, detectable by the palm of the hand. Dozens of bottles of precious gasoline were sacrificed in volleys. Same result.
OK, let's back off and do a little thinking.
1. Steel is a fair conductor. Heat applied in one area will eventually warm up the whole mass slightly to imperceptibly. The warming effect of a quart of gasoline on thirty-five to forty tons of steel is less than that of ten minutes in the sunshine of a Georgia summer.
2. If a gasoline bomb burst on the air inlet the flames and smoke would be sucked in by the fan and would for about one and a half to two minutes interfere with the cooling of the engine—an ineffectual length of time. Unless there was a serious leak in the fuel tanks, they would not be affected.
3. If a quantity of gasoline bombs were burst on the air intake louvers the smoke might interfere with the carburetion of the fuel by depriving the engine of oxygen and the tank might be stalled until the gasoline burned out and the driver restarted the engine.
So there was no need to test the gasoline bombs on a live tank after all, and the project was dropped.
The one constructive idea that I contributed on this test was the development of a better bomb.
I requisitioned a jar of phosphorus, which came in the form of small cylinders about a half to one and one-half inches immersed in water. Remove one of the cylinders and in a few seconds the water would evaporate and the phosphorus would burst into flames. If one used gasoline as the liquid, the flame was almost instantaneous.
A problem: how does one pop phosphorus into a bottle and then fill the bottle with gasoline? Very carefully, and with risk of having the thing blow up and singe your eyebrows.
OK, we'll pour enough water in the bottle, enough to keep the phosphorus damp, first. Then pop the phosphorus cylinder into the water. Last, pour in the gasoline and cap the bottle firmly.
It worked. That is, it worked if the phosphorus capsule stayed with the bulk of the fuel when the bottle broke. But most of the time the capsule bounced clear and the gas simply evaporated harmlessly. Back to the drawing board.
Aha! Place the phosphorus capsule with the inhibiting bit of water in a pestle and grind it into small chunks, practically a powder. Pour the soup of water and phosphorus powder into the bottle, add the gasoline, and cap the bottle.
It worked magnificently. And not a damned soul was interested.
The fougasse had been used since the invention of gunpowder in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries as a poor man's cannon to cover a weak point in fortifications. A slanting hole was dug with the opening facing the expected target. A keg or kegs of powder placed in the bottom of the hole was the propelling charge. A load of stones was shoveled in on top of the powder. A fuse fired at the appropriate moment would strike the attacking force with a half ton of flying stones.
From time to time when a test officer had a particularly important or interesting test to make he would invite the members of the test as well as the thinking section of the board to witness the show. It was much more convincing than reading the dry factual report. Captain Sydenham issued such an invitation to witness the effect of a gasoline fougasse on a target vehicle such as a truck, armored personnel carrier, or tank. The booted and spurred seniors arrived on the test site and milled around while Sydenham explained his idea.
Sydenham showed the tunnel three feet in diameter and five feet deep that was scooped out of the clay bank beside the road. He explained the loading—fifteen pounds of TNT, electrically detonated at the bottom of the hole, and a fifty-five-gallon drum of gasoline. A truck would tow a target along the road, he would push the plunger at the appropriate moment, the TNT would shatter the drum and blow the liquid gasoline over the target, the explosion would fire the gasoline, and the target would be eliminated. Sounded very logical. His first test with water (due to the cost of gasoline) had been most successful. The board gathered in a semicircle thirty feet from the fougasse, watching with interest.
Here came a one-and-a-half-ton truck towing a sled with a paper-covered frame the size of a three-quarter-tonner 150 feet behind it.
Sydenham pushed the plunger.
There was a dull subterranean thump and the genie was out of the bottle. An immense black, red-slotted cloud shot out of the hole toward the target on the road, changed direction, and went straight up thirty feet and spread like the angel of death mushroom. The cloud stayed black but it was burning, pulsing with flickering lights and flames. Looked as though it was going to settle on us.
I was amazed at the physical fitness displayed by the senior members of the board. Booted and spurred, hampered by ten to fifteen years' seniority, some of them still outran me in our dash for the safety of clear sky.
The paper target was unscathed. Burning, vaporized gasoline does not fall, it rises, and as air gets into the cloud it burns further. The elders of the board departed with scathing remarks about safety, pretesting, brainstorms, and wasted time.
Sydenham went into a morbid depression for two days, doing nothing but sketching and reading. Then he was absent from his desk for a week. Finally he passed the word that the board was invited to witness the test of fougasse II. Only one courageous member of the thinking section showed up and took his post well in rear of the younger set, who were hoping for another such adrenaline-stirring result as before.
The same hole was used for the fougasse and the same truck dragged the carcass of a wrecked three-quarter-ton reconnaissance car. At the critical moment the same dull whoop sounded, but a dark, burning flood of liquid gushed out of the bank, sloshed over the target, and gutted it to its steel skeleton.
Sydenham had used fifty gallons of old crankcase oil and four gallons of gasoline this time, and all that rose was the smoke.
Due to the greater ease of installing land mines the fougasse was recommended only for the use of guerrillas.
But the idea of napalm was born and adopted by the air force in a later war.
"Mr. Le Tourneau, this is Major Triplet. Triplet, Mr. Le Tourneau. He wants to talk to you about a road-building machine that sounds interesting." Colonel Melasky promptly departed to consider problems more interesting to the infantry than roads, which were, after all, an engineer's responsibility.
I came out of my trance to find that I was shaking hands with a dynamic, forceful, energetic, and enthusiastic civilian, medium-sized, unremarkable figure, nondescript features, mousy brown hair, and penetrating eyes, dark brown. It was shortly apparent that he had a powerful imagination and was well qualified as a salesman or con man. He presented a card, "Le Tourneau. Earth moving machines," followed by more data on the address in Florida, phone numbers, and branch factories.
"We build bulldozers, backhoes, graders, dump trucks, rollers, power shovels, and earth movers," he began. "I want to build a road-making machine for the army, a machine that can make a road right across any kind of country at five miles an hour, fighting if necessary, so that all the army has to do is follow along behind it. Here's the idea—," and he unfolded sketches of an "artist's concept" that he pulled from his bulging briefcase. Colossal. Herculean. Unbelievable. Damnedest idea I ever saw or dreamed of.
The thing reminded me of the old Mark VIII tanks in a way, except that this one was scaled at 160 feet long, 40 feet high, and 40 feet wide counting the 9-foot width of track on each side. The body was only 20 feet in width. On the front a prow like the extended cowcatcher of a locomotive was equipped with pointed, sharp-edged prongs like the blades of a mowing machine. A sloping front apron was topped by a hemispherical turret from which protruded a sixteen-inch gun like a phallic symbol. About a hundred feet of body extended behind the turret and the machine was propelled by those monstrous tracks with track plates 4 by 9 feet equipped with grousers 2 feet in height.
In a see-through sketch more machinery was shown inside and under the body, a set of grader blades set like arrows pointing rearward, a sheepfoot roller, a mechanical centipede with ponderous flat feet operated on the ends of knee-jointed legs, another gigantic roller with a conventionally smooth surface. In the artist's concept the prow was plowing up and tossing aside four to six feet of earth, boulders, trees, and brush. The grader blades were cutting soil, gravel, and rock back into the shallow trench formed by the prow. The sheepfoot roller was driving boulders and tree trunks into the foundation with three-foot feet two feet in diameter. The tamper drove all projecting material down to a flat level and the final roller was spraying a coat of bonding oil and rolling the roadbed smooth. Mr. Le Tourneau explained the concept:
"This machine in front carries the plow. The plow can be adjusted in height from the carrying position six feet high in the tap-root cutting depth of six feet. It can cut the rocks and roots through a virgin oak forest at five miles an hour, throws the trees and soil to each side like the bow of a ship throws a bow wave. Up here behind this sloping front apron is the control bridge for steering, depth of cut, engine control, and gun direction. This turret carries the sixteen-inch gun; that's why the army won't have to do any fighting as long as they follow on the road we build. Back here we have the engine room with diesels adding up to sixty thousand horsepower. Fuel tanks for fifty thousand gallons. We don't have to economize on weight—in earth-moving the weight of the machine is our friend. Look at those tracks and grousers. With eight to sixteen inches of armor around her this machine can go anywhere. With this much weight and power she can cut through solid limestone like a knife through Limburger cheese."
I was beginning to understand why Melasky had introduced Mr. Le Tourneau and then thought of something important elsewhere. The genius continued:
"Next the planer pulls the dirt back into the roadbed and cuts the camber and drainage ditches, mounds the loose material for the sheepfoot roller. Controller in here lifts the blade on either side if it hits anything too big for the roadbed. This fifty-ton sheepfoot hammers the debris into a hard mass way down. The stamper is driven by three track sprockets and the stampers operate with the speed of the machine so there is no complication by the use of a separate power source. Finally this roller—notice how it's shaped to give the right drainage slope to the surface—is teamed up with the sprayer here so we roll in a thin layer of oil. And you have five miles of macadamized road for your army every hour.
"Well, what do you think of it?" he asked, bright-eyed as ever.
"Hmmm, interesting, impressive, stupendous. Takes a little getting used to. It's about coffee time. Let's go over to the bar while I think it over."
I tried to turn the conversation to jeeps, horses, coon hunts, Halley's comet, anything else, but he was obsessed by big machines and like Archimedes was just looking for a place to anchor his lever so he could move the world.
After coffee we went back to my desk and he unfolded his sketches but this time I beat him to the punch:
"You have a magnificent idea here, Mr. Le Tourneau, but I have a few minor suggestions that might make it more acceptable to the army. It seems to me, Mr. Le Tourneau, that while the size and weight of your machine are an advantage in doing its job you might have a little difficulty in getting it to the place where the work is to be done. The war is going on in Africa, Europe, and the Orient, and the only way we can get to it is by plane and ship. There's no ship in the world that can carry your machine and if there was a ship big enough no skipper would accept a deckload of sixty thousand tons. The only way it could be transported by water would be to drive it into a drydock and build a ship around it."
"That's a wonderful idea!" said Le Tourneau, scribbling in his notebook. "Build the hull around the machine and use the power plant to drive the propellers. Magnificent!"
"Another slight problem occurs to me—how are we going to get the machine to the port or drydock? Such a weight on grousers like that would completely destroy any road it moved on. The height and width to say nothing of the weight makes transport by railroad impossible. Move across country under its own power? I doubt if any of our present bridges would stand up under it and so far as I see in this sketch it can't swim. Now to vulnerability, as our tankers have learned no armor has ever been made yet that cannot be broken or penetrated. Your proposed sixteen-inch belt of steel around the most important parts of the machine can be smashed, and remember that over twenty years ago the Germans were using the 42-cm. (sixteen-inch) howitzer to smash the forts and the deepest dugouts at Verdun. A sixteen-inch shell from a railroad gun could knock the turret off or give such a shock to the structure that the machine would be crippled and pounded into scrap. And your tracks, massive as they are, could be wrecked by a field gun.
"But you're talking to the wrong people when you advocate size and weight. In the infantry we prefer to keep our targets small, low, and well dispersed. And put lots of these little targets into the fight.
"Oh yes, every machine that we've had any experience with does break down occasionally. Let's say you have thirty thousand two-ton machines instead of one sixty-thousand-ton machine on a job and you have a mechanical failure. You still have 29,999 working on the job.
"So I suggest that you scale down your idea to the point where any machine you build is transportable by rail and ship and that each machine has a separate function. That way when one gets hit or breaks down you have a lot more to continue the work.
"Another reason is you're talking to the wrong people—in the infantry we don't build roads, we just use the roads the engineers build or maintain for us. I'll give you the address of a man in the engineers you ought to start with, Captain Everett, on the staff of the chief of engineers.
"Thank you for dropping in, Mr. Le Tourneau, sure was interesting."
So Mr. Le Tourneau, his enthusiasm only slightly dimmed, took off to sell his machines to the engineers during the war, and continues to build the biggest and best earth-moving machines in the world.
Mummy Bag, Helmet, Jeep
During the long night marches of the spring of 1918 when the Thirty-fifth Division was the mobile reserve of the British Fifth Army, I had frequently dreamed of an improvement in the sleeping gear of the frontline troops. The tentage and blankets were the same size and weight for the 130-pound runt of the company as the 220-pound, six-feet-four giant. We never used tents on or near the front and were always quartered in barns or bivouacked in forests.
Why couldn't we form the tent material and blankets into a form-fitting cocoon around the individual, trim away the excess material, and sew up the edges? Make these bedding rolls in four sizes, small, medium, large, and outsize. Then the big man would be carrying twelve pounds of bedding, the runt would be packing seven pounds, and both would be sleeping a lot more snugly on a cold night. This idea, while basically worth a trial, remained a dormant dream for twenty-four years.
During a lull in the frenzy of testing weird ideas the dream returned and now I was in a position to do something about it. I went to the quartermaster salvage dump and drew a tattered Sibley tent and five salvaged olive-drab blankets. Took this debris to the post saddler's shop where with the saddler's guidance and help I cut and stitched the sleeping bag of my dreams with four blanket liners. The saddler furnished the hooks, eyes, and thongs for the closure.
Never have I had an idea approved, developed, and adopted so fast. And in so many forms.
The board sent it to the quartermaster general as a requirement. In three weeks I received ten prototypes for test. They had interesting variations. Some bright lad in the quartermaster research and development had put a lot of thought into the development. They had made the following additions to some of the prototypes: heavy brass zippers, tabs inside and outside, from throat to toe; rubberized waterproof canvas; heavy, abrasive-proof canvas on back and sides; snap fasteners for liners; feather-filled quilt liners for the winter bag; durable cotton liners for tropical use; a dome three feet in diameter covered with mosquito netting supported by umbrella-rib-like rods that collapsed to a twenty-inch length when packed.
The weather at Fort Benning was warm to cool at the time so the tests could not be completed by us. I sent the tropic bag to the hot test center in Arizona and the winter bag to the mountain troops in Colorado.
I then borrowed a squad of riflemen from the Twenty-ninth Infantry and trucked them to a distant part of the reservation with eight days' rations. Gave them the easiest mission a soldier ever had—sleep. Each man was to sleep one night in each bag and report to the corporal the next morning how he had slept. The corporal had the job of making notes and taking down any ideas the men had for improvements.
A couple of interesting discoveries were made. The tropic bag was too cold for the lower end of Death Valley. After sunset the air cooled rapidly and by morning it was cold. They wanted two blanket liners. The mountain troops recommended a buttoned or laced closure. The moisture from the body froze and clogged the zippers so that a man had to have assistance or wait till sunup to get out of the bag.
By the fall of 1942 the quartermaster was making tropic liners, summer liners, winter liners, mountain liners, and Arctic liners for the basic mummy bag.
The proliferation of sleeping bags, blanket, cotton quilt, down-filled quilt, feather-filled quilt, wool-filled quilt liners, and the zipper, lacing, button, and toggle type closures suggested by the users and offered by a most cooperative quartermaster required more testing.
But what testing was required? The preferences stated were made by the ultimate users, the troops in the field, and under field conditions. It would be downright stupid and arrogant for the board to tell the troops on the front or in the snowdrifts what they really needed. So I weaseled on that test.
Again I visited the commissary, the laundry, and took my test bags and ten five-gallon milk cans full of water at 150 degrees to the butcher, stowed each can in a sleeping bag, and lined them up in the walk-in refrigerator under the eye of my friendly butcher.
Twenty-four hours later I read the thermometers suspended in the cans. The results were to be expected—the tropic bag can had frozen solid, since it had only the cotton quilted insulation. The Arctic bag with its waterfowl down liner had kept the water in its can well protected—temperature still showed a reading of 127. The other cans registered temperatures between those limits that could have been predicted.
So for this test I merely reported the temperatures registered in the comparative test and recommended that the requests of the troops in the field be granted. It was obvious that toggles and loops recommended by Alaskans could be more easily managed by men with frozen fingers than could buttons and buttonholes or lacings.
I don't know how many of these sleeping bags, originally meant for the sole use of the front-line, foxhole footslogger, ever got to the front. But a hell of a lot of field officers slept real comfy in them.
Some of them got to the front in the Pacific, I'm sure. I read a serious complaint by some GI who told a sad story. His best buddy was sliced to ribbons during a Japanese suicide attack because he couldn't find the zipper tab or the zipper jammed. Slaughtered like a pig in a poke. Well, anybody who would zip his bag to the chin when he was that close to the Japs.
And there was the sad story of the lad in Alaska who couldn't sleep in the snowdrifts while on maneuvers because his feet got so hot.
* * *
The board received a requirement for the development of a better helmet for the infantry. Since it was to be a development from scratch, the imaginative genius Major Sydenham got the job.
During World War I the United States had been stamping out the silly shallow washbasin-type helmets for the British. When the United States came belatedly into the fray we just accelerated the stamping and used them for our own troops. Now that we were in a war again we started to begin to commence to initiate action to get our frontline troops better head protection. Better protection for the temples and neck was required.
I came in next Monday morning and saw that Sydenham's desk was a veritable museum of helmetry—German, French, Italian, current American, and a weird composite that looked like the parade helmet of the British horse guards or the Garde Republicaine. Looked familiar. It was my brainchild of 1935. Sydenham had his feet on the desk—looked like he was asleep.
In 1934, I was maintenance officer of F Company, Sixty-seventh Infantry (medium tanks), and responsible for maintaining thirteen mechanical abortions offered by our moronic ordnance corps research and development geniuses. I also tested and turned in disapproving reports on new types offered.
F Company was attached to the First Battalion, Sixty-seventh Infantry (light tanks), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Stutesman. Colonel Stutesman was always having new ideas that he passed on to me to work on. One morning in 1935 he caught me at the coffee break in the Sixty-seventh mess hall. "Triplet—the tankers need a better helmet. See what you can do about it. We need to have splinter protection, lead splash protection, chin straps, and chin flaps to include earphones for these newfangled radios. Get going on this project."
He was right. We sure did need a better type of helmet. The square, padded leather things the tankers used in 1918 to soften the bumps on the cranium were absurd anachronisms. With no chin or neck straps the only thing holding them on was gravity and in rough going tank crews immediately lost their helmets and suffered from bumps, bruises, and concussions when they were flung against the armor. "Yes sir," I replied enthusiastically. "That football helmet that I use is better than anything the government puts out. And it costs only $5.25 as opposed to the $14 for the leather boxes we copied from the British. We could save $8.75 a helmet if we went to football helmets and they have chin straps as well as neck and ear protection."
"That's right. Now all you have to do is add the splinter proofing, lead-splash eye protection, and earphones," agreed my heartless commander.
OK, after a lot of doodling I chiseled an old French helmet from the friendly sergeant in charge of the museum and removed the crest and rim. Went to the blacksmith shop and hammered sheet iron until I had the right curves, and asked the interested horseshoer to braze the neck flap onto the skull piece. The rest was easy. A pair of shatterproof goggles were set in a strip of sheet iron that was riveted at the temples of the skull piece, so the goggles could be raised or lowered. Large iron ear flaps lined with the padded earphones on each side and riveted in place, and the chin strip from a standard steel helmet added.
Colonel Stutesman looked over this crude model and speculated about adding a gas mask but finally sent the model and my sketches to the ordnance research and development section, requesting that they furnish a finished prototype for test.
Their wizards did a wonderful job and returned a helmet that would do credit to the horse guards in beauty and filled all of the colonel's requirements in detail. The padding gave protection against the bumps, the steel was the same gauge as the standard washbasin helmet, the temples and neck were protected, the goggles gave clear vision through the antique observation slits we were still using, and the earphones plugged into the experimental radio kept us in touch with the outside world. Blindness would no longer be the cause of casualties among tank commanders and drivers.
Colonel Stutesman made a heroic effort to have the helmet standardized, produced, and issued to all tank units. The request was disapproved at the highest level due to the cost. So the prototype went into the tank section of the Fort Benning museum where it remained until I recognized it among the other helmets on Sydenham's desk.
"What the hell is that?" I asked, indicating my brainchild.
"Borrowed it from the museum—a screwy idea of some idiot trying to make a tanker's helmet."
Since I was the idiot he was talking about I had an unreasonable rise in blood pressure, ire, choler, and a primitive yearning to smack Sydenham into the middle of next week. But too many witnesses, and the insult was certainly unintentional. So—"Well, Syd, you shouldn't have to spend much time on this requirement. Just recommend that they turn out yeah-million copies of the German helmet. It's the best in the world and proven in two wars. One thing, delete those silly knobs on each side for the hinging of face pieces. Even the Germans don't use face pieces except for snipers, and we never would."
"Yes, I'm thinking of that, but there's the matter of recognition. Our men would always be wondering, `Is that guy under that helmet a Kraut or one of ours?'"
"Paint 'em a different color."
"Yeah, but what about a dim light or at night?"
"Yes, that's so," I agreed, and there my involvement with the new helmet ended.
Sydenham was lost to the world for about two weeks. Sometimes he just sat and stared at the collection of armored headgear on his desk. Sometimes he doodled and sketched. He was frequently absent from his desk and some days just didn't show up.
Then one morning he appeared wearing a helmet the like of which no one had ever seen before. It faintly resembled the German model in that it protected the neck and temples but was more rounded. He went into the chief's office and remained closeted with Melasky for half an hour. When he emerged he was evidently back in this world, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Chazal and I went to see the new headpiece. Chazal picked it up. "Why—this thing is plastic!" exclaimed Chazal. "It's not a helmet."
"That's right," agreed the genius. "That's the helmet liner. It will replace the campaign hat, the garrison cap, and the overseas cap. We're going to wear the helmet over it when the shooting starts. Then for garrison duty we take off the helmet and wear the liner."
It was a revolutionary idea, the plastic hat with the adjustable webbing and straps riveted to the shell, then a snug-fitting steel copy jammed on it for wear in the field. But it worked beautifully. The ordnance people responded nobly and in an amazingly short time sent us twenty helmets and liners for testing.
One of the liners became my constant headgear while testing vehicles. And since the war the Third World armies have been almost entirely equipped with surplus helmets and liners dreamed up by Sydenham.
The hard hat idea has also been adopted by labor and industry the world over, and in most states any motorcyclist who doesn't wear a helmet liner gets thrown into the slammer.
There was another world-ranging development made by the Infantry Board personnel during the 1940-1942 period. The Willys miniature trucks were sort of square-cut, looked a bit more rugged and capable than the Bantam, and were two hundred pounds heavier. This should have resulted in an immediate disapproval, but I had committed the greatest crime of a test officer—I had fallen in love with the small recon car concept.
The major obvious differences were the Willys was shod with 4.5-inch tires as opposed to the Bantam's 3.5, and had a slightly more powerful engine. In appearance the Bantam was softly rounded while the Willys' hood was flat and all corners were square. The Willys also had the newfangled hydraulic brakes instead of the more reliable brakes actuate by cables and muscle power.
Mr. Martin, who accompanied the Willys fleet, was an unimpressive little washed-out brunet, very retiring and most knowledgeable and capable. He was cooperative in the extreme and was of outstanding assistance in selling the jeep (general purpose vehicle) to the infantry, the army, and the navy, to say nothing of the rest of the world.
I started testing the Willys just as soon as I could get a pair of them away from Sergeant Snyder and the mechanics. But the automotive tests were interspersed with tests and development of other interesting equipment that I carried out while Snyder and Mr. Martin were repairing the results of my last failure (or when my own frame had to be bent back into shape).
My principal job while on the Infantry Board (test section) was the testing of the quarter-ton GP vehicle, and getting it approved for production was the hardest work of that period. The principal trouble was that in the previous year the gray-haired thinkers of the board who were quite competent in dealing with matters concerning Custer's massacre, San Juan Hill; or World War I, had stated that the three-quarter-ton GP truck, as a truck, a command car, or as a reconnaissance car was the ultimate vehicle of all time. How could they now admit that there was a midget vehicle that could outperform their darling? These Indian fighters were very difficult and it damned near required miracles to get a majority vote of approval. The thinking section of the board was resistant to change. They called any suggestion for improvement "rocking the boat." Typical encounters in the club coffee bar ran something like this when one of the thinkers joined me for coffee: "Triplet, when are you going to conclude your test of that ridiculous motorized roller skate?"
"I'm working on it. I still think it'll make a good recon car."
"But we've already got a recon car. Just last year we swore the three-quarter-ton GP was the idea. We can't change our minds so soon, make us look like we didn't know our own minds."
"Well, the quarter-ton is proving that it can outrun, out-climb, and out-wade the three-quarter-ton job, and I see no reason to throw it out on account of you people making a mistake last year."
"The three-quarter can carry fifteen hundred pounds or six men satisfactorily. Why do we want to complicate the supply system with a midget that has a load capacity of six hundred pounds or four men?"
"Because the three-quarter-ton job has a silhouette like the Woolworth Building and would never live within sight of the enemy lines. You called it a satisfactory reconnaissance car because there was nothing better in sight. Now there is. Even the Germans have a better recon job, their Kubelwagen. It has a four-man body, bucket seats, and a low silhouette, and the quarter-ton with its four-wheel drive and multi-gear system is way superior to the Kubelwagen."
"Well, when you turn in your report there's no member of the board will approve it. Complicates the system."
Naturally the board had fought the adoption of the Christie tank, which had been bought by the Russians and turned into the T-34, the best tank in the world.
I didn't perform any miracles, but Mr. Martin and his friends at the Willys factory did. They met every request that I made for modification except one, and the improvement they made instead was the right decision.
I started with the routine tests, weight (too heavy), speed (OK, I held down on the throttle till the speedometer hit sixty-eight and chickened out), braking ability (satisfactory), steering (OK considering the short wheel base that made sixty-five the top safe speed), steering radius (too large to make a U-turn on a two-lane road).
My first request to Mr. Martin concerned the steering radius. "Mr. Martin, for a reconnaissance vehicle we need something that can make a 180-degree turn with a fifteen-foot radius. How about a four-wheel steer?"
"I'll call up about it right away, captain."
Three weeks after I'd suggested a four-wheel steering machine we had it. She could turn around in a woodland one-track lane, so she answered my requirement for a fast getaway perfectly. But she had her bad points too. On the speed test I chickened out at forty-eight miles an hour. Short-coupled and with all wheels steering, she was always trying to go somewhere else, and fifty miles an hour would have been suicidal.
I drove her up against a curb in front of the school one morning, a perfect parking, with both tires not more than an inch from the curb. When I tried to leave I found that it was impossible. My front tires would turn slightly away from the curb and the rear tire would turn into it. It took a lot of muscle volunteered by amused bystanders to get my front wheel out to where I could leave my perfect parking position.
Since the four-wheel steer had the agility and turning radius desirable in a hit-and-run operation I took her to the ordnance shop and had the rear axle of a 2.5-ton welded to the reinforced frame with a ball-bearing mounted swivel on which I mounted our pitiful 37-mm. antitank gun. The tank destroyer M1.
Sergeant Simmons was a damned good gunner and was able to get excellent groups in the accuracy tests. He theorized that the shell was out of the gun before the recoil started, but as a bachelor of science whose best marks had been achieved in physics I'm sure the excellent shooting was due to the regularity of gun recoil and his shooting eye. But the four-wheel-steer jeep sure did recoil. The gun would crack and recoil. Then the jeep would leap up, sideways and backwards. So Simmons was right in part. The antics of the jeep did not affect the shot; the target was probably hit before the vehicle remembered to jump.
So the four-wheel-steer jeep became known as Leaping Lena, the idea of the front and rear steering was dropped, and Lena was only shown thereafter as a curio or for comedy effect.