by Ralph Zumbro
Hardcover in dustjacket, 196 pages with appendix, glossary, and index; illustrated
Publisher: Presidio Press November 1986
Package Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
Tank Sergeant is Ralph Zumbro’s personal account of tank warfare in Vietnam. Specifically, Zumbro was a tank crewman and tank commander on M48A3 Pattons during 1967 and 1968, which includes the Tet offensive. While not specifically optimized or intended for operations in a jungle environment, the tanks were nevertheless in high demand and the vehicles in Company A, 1st Battalion, 69th Armored were disbursed in small detachments across a wide area. Surprisingly for an organization with the vast resources of the U.S. Army, there were never enough tanks in-country to go around and never enough time to maintain the tanks that were there.
The tanks were utilized for infantry support, convoy escort, and guarding fixed points such as bridges. The main obstacles were the jungle and the terrain, the main threats were mines, RPGs, and getting boarded by infantry. Combat was constant. Keeping the tanks maintained was a struggle and they often operated with partial crews. At one point in the narrative Zumbro’s M48 (which was fitted with a bulldozer blade) received a much-needed depot level overhaul. The vehicle was barely operational and had accumulated almost three times the running hours recommended between servicings.
This is very much a personal story, and Zumbro goes into details of the day to day operations and challenges of keeping the tanks running. The horse-trading and bureaucratic red tape required to procure parts will be familiar to former service members, Zumbro relates resorting to unauthorized nighttime requisitions to secure the needed items. He also describes a platoon of tanks catching an NVA battalion in the open waiting to ambush a convoy. The results were predicable, but the complete destruction of a large NVA formation in the weeks after Tet did not fit the desired Press narrative and therefore went unreported.
Overall a very interesting and informative read, especially given the unique perspective of a tanker in Vietnam. Highly recommended!