Impressions of the well supplied US Army

A US tank crew pose infront of their Lee tank in Tunisia. The high profile of the Lee made it less popular than the Sherman,

A US tank crew pose in front of their Lee tank in Tunisia. The high profile of the Lee made it less popular than the Sherman,

British war correspondent Alan Moorehead had been in the desert from the very beginning. His classic account of the campaign in North Africa is full of incidental detail, painting a vivid picture of what life was like in the field.

In late March he learnt that US forces were poised for a new attack in the west of Tunisia, squeezing the Germans as the 8th Army made their assault in the south east. Moorehead took the opportunity to visit the US troops on the eve of battle:

In the drizzling rain little groups of infantrymen were drawn up to receive their last instructions. They were hardly more than boys, most of them, wonderfully tall and proportioned and looking very forbidding under their Nazi-like helmets.

Unlike the British battledress and equipment, which tends to hold a man stiffly upright, these boys were in a uniform which gave them plenty of free movement. The short and formless weatherproof jacket was scarcely a garment of beauty, but it allowed the men to walk in the easy stooping way to which they were accustomed.

Most of the American stuff was first-class, and even as good or better than the German. Their mess tins, water bottles, rubber-soled boots, woollen underclothes, shirts and windbreakers were all superior to the British equivalents and their uniforms in general were made of finer stuff.

The Garand rifle and the officers’ carbine were already regarded by many veterans as the best small arms on the front. As for their heavier equipment, it is doubtful if any army ever went to war so well supplied.

The only general criticism might have been that there was too much of it. Every other truck had a machine-gun mounted on its cabin. The self-propelling guns and the Long Tom guns were some of the heaviest artillery along the whole front. The diesel Sherman was certainly the best tank of its class.

The jeeps, at the other end of the scale, were unmatched, and the Gennans loved to capture them for their own use, just as we had loved to get hold of a Volkswagen. The weapon-carriers and the command vehicles were all brand new, as were the signalling sets, the bulldozers for road-mending, and the electrical workshops.

It was the volume of this stuff, the intensity of the firepower that was so impressive. Possibly the troops could have done with a better heavy machine-gun and an improved mortar, but in general there was no question that they were the best equipped allied amiy at the front.

By European army standards the American rations were lavish to the point of extravagance – vast quantities of tinned meats, fruits and vegetables. In any American mess you could be sure of getting an excellent hot meat and vegetable stew, a plate of fruit, white bread and a cup of coffee.

Things like cigarettes, chewing-gum and toothpaste were handed out in a way that made the British soldiers gape. The Doughboy was always generous in sharing out his good things. As a British war correspondent I personally was given immediate hospitality wherever I went, and such things as maps and plans were discussed with me without hesitation.

Alan Moorehead: The Desert War Trilogy

US President F.D. Roosevelt  inspects troops from a Willis jeep during the Casablanca conference, January 1943.

US President F.D. Roosevelt inspects troops from a Willis jeep during the Casablanca conference, January 1943.

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