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They say that Henri of Navarre at Ivry told his cavalry to follow the white plume on his helmet when he ordered the charge that decided the battle and the future of France. Plumes are out of fashion today, but every leader can still set before him a figurative white plume his mission-never to be lost sight of until his objective is attained.


Restoring The Balance

Chapter 10

Tank Support

* Members of Company A, 89th Medium Tank Battalion, crawled out of their sleeping bags at 0330 on 7 March 1951. Breakfast was scheduled at 0345, the attack at 0615. [1]

It was snowing. The heavy wet flakes, which melted soon after they fell, made the ground wet and slippery. Through the darkness and the usual early morning fog, the drivers went off to start the engines of their tanks so that they would warm up during breakfast.

Bivouacked in the half-destroyed village of Kwirin-ni, Company A was ready to move as soon as the men finished breakfast and rolled up their sleeping bags. The company's 15 tanks and 1 tank recovery vehicle were dispersed among the buildings of the village, carefully located so that each would occupy its designated position in the column when it moved onto the road. The vehicles were already loaded with ammunition, carrying, in addition to the regular load of 71 rounds, 54 rounds that each crew had stacked on the rear deck of its tank. Fastened to the eight tanks that were to be at the head of the column were trailers, each carrying nested twelve-man assault boats.

Company A's mission for 7 March 1951 was to support the 35th Infantry (25th Infantry Division) in its assault crossing of the Han River. For the operation the tank company was attached to the infantry regiment, and further detailed to support the 3d Battalion. Orders for the crossing, originating at Eighth Army, reached the 35th Infantry on 2 March. Regimental and battalion officers had begun at once to plan for the crossing and of train troops in the use of assault boats. Commanders, flying in liaisonplanes above the river, had searched for possible crossing sites. The Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon patrolled the south bank of the river to get specific information. [2]

Since the engineers had estimated that the Han River would be 7 to 9 feet deep at the time of the crossing, division and regimental orders included no plan to get tanks across the river during the assault phase. There was a plan, however, to construct a fifty-ton-capacity floating bridge, which the engineers anticipated would be in use by early evening of the first day of the assault. [3] After delivering fire across the river in support of the infantry crossing, the tanks were to continue direct fire support of the ground movement until they could cross on the bridge.

As the planning progressed, Lt.Col. Welborn G. Dolvin (commander of the 89th Tank Battalion) considered the possibility of getting tanks across the river in time to give close and effective support while the infantrymen were expanding their bridgehead. After reconnoitering the river bank and making several flights over the area, Colonel Dolvin suggested this possibility to the commander of Company A (Capt. Herbert A. Brannon). He did not order Captain Brannon to attempt the crossing but only suggested that he fully investigate the possibilities, and that the advantages of giving tank support when the infantrymen most needed it warranted the risk involved.

"It's worth a gamble," Dolvin said.

Captain Brannon went to the engineers for more information about the depth of the water and the condition of the river bottom. Unfortunately, there was scant information on either, since the Chinese kept the river effectively covered with machine-gun fire both day and night. Captain Brannon studied aerial photographs of the crossing site and decided to gamble one tank on the crossing.

On 4 March Brannon moved his tank company into a forward assembly area at Kwirin-ni about two miles from the proposed crossing site. That evening he called his platoon leaders to his mud hut and told them he intended to attempt to ford the river. His plan was to send one tank, towing a cable from the winch of the tank recovery vehicle, across the river. If the water proved to be too deep and the tank swamped out, the recovery vehicle on the south bank could pull it back. If the tank made it to the north bank, the others would follow the same route. The leader of the 3d Platoon (Lt. Thomas J. Allie) volunteered to take the first tank into the water.

The next morning Captain Brannon made a reconnaissance of the south bank of the Han. Hills and embankments on the right and in the central part of the regimental zone fell abruptly to the river. Only on the left, in the 3d Battalion's sector, were the banks gentle enough to permit a crossing. This area, at the point where the Pukhan River joins the Han, was of necessity the crossing site for all assault units of the 35th Infantry. About a thousand yards upstream from the confluence of the rivers, there was asmall, flat island dividing the Han into two channels, the near about 250 feet wide and the far about 200.

Captain Brannon walked along the river bank until he was opposite the island or sand bar. Aerial photographs indicated he would find the most promising route at the west end of this island. After choosing a route for the tank crossing, he selected positions from which all three platoons could best support the crossing of the infantrymen.

Since all movement to the river bank on 7 March would be hidden by darkness, tank-platoon leaders, accompanied by Captain Brannon, made their own reconnaissance on 6 March, locating the routes and the positions they would occupy.

Engineers, responsible for furnishing and manning the assault boats, asked Captain Brannon to haul these craft to the river bank. There were two reasons for this: the engineers feared their trucks would get stuck in the loose sand near the river, and the regiment was anxious to have as few vehicles as possible on the roads leading to the crossing site on the morning of the assault. Each trailer carried five assault boats. Engineers were to ride on the trailers to the crossing site, unhook them, and then remain until the infantrymen arrived to put the boats into the water. After dropping the trailers, the tanks would proceed to their selected positions and prepare to fire. The schedule called for the tanks to fire a twenty-minute preparation beginning at 0555. At 0615 infantrymen of the 3d Battalion, 35th Infantry, would push the assault boats into the water and row toward the hostile north bank of the river.

Quietly, early on the morning of 7 March, Company A tankers finished breakfast, rolled up their sleeping bags, and then moved the tanks onto the road. When Captain Brannon ordered the column forward at 0430, it had stopped snowing. The tanks moved slowly; the tank commanders did not want to make unnecessary noise by racing the engines, and it was too dark at the time for the drivers to see more than the outline of the road.

Exactly as planned, the tank column proceeded to the river bank, stopped only long enough for the engineers to uncouple the trailers, then continued by platoons to firing positions. It was about 0545. From across the river came the sound of occasional shell bursts. The preparation fire was not scheduled until twenty minutes before jump-off. At 0555 four battalions of 105-mm howitzers, a battalion of 155-mm howitzers, and a regiment of British guns commenced firing on previously designated targets. [4] Captain Brannon's tanks opened direct fire against targets on the north bank of the Han. For this fire, the crews used the ammunition loaded on the rear decks of the tanks, keeping the regular load of ammunition for use if they could successfully ford the river.

It was still so dark that the tankers could see only the hazy outline of hills across the river. At 0615, on schedule, infantrymen pushed assault Boats into the water, and the assault wave, still partly hidden from the enemy by the dim half-light of early morning, started across the river. The infantrymen crossed several hundred yards below the sand bar, following a different route than that the tankers expected to take.

The crossing progressed on schedule although enemy machine-gun fire punched small holes in several of the boats, wounding some of the occupants. Once across the river, the assault companies came under concentrated small-arms fire soon after leaving the gentle rise on the north river bank. At the same time, enemy artillery fire began falling on the south bank. Besides interfering with activities on that side of the river, the fire destroyed sections of a foot bridge then under construction.

Lt.Col. James H. Lee (infantry battalion commander) and Captain Brannon watched the river-crossing operation from the battalion's observation post. At 0740, when he received word that all assault units of his battalion were across, Colonel Lee, who was skeptical of the success of the crossing, told Captain Brannon that the north bank was secure. "You can try crossing if you wish."

Captain Brannon called Lieutenant Allie, who had offered to take the first tank into the water.

Already within two hundred yards of the river, the two vehicles moved to the edge of the water and stopped to connect the winch cable from the recovery vehicle to Lieutenant Allie's tank. About 0800 Allie's tank went into the water, heading toward the west (downstream) end of the sandy island near the middle of the river. Lieutenant Allie stood erect in the open hatch, calling out instructions to the driver over the tank intercommunication system. The water was only about three feet deep, and since the Sherman tank was designed to ford water to that depth, there was no difficulty except that the speed of the tank, limited by the speed at which the motor-driven winch on the recovery vehicle could pay out the cable, was slow. After the tank had gone two thirds of the distance to the island, the winch suddenly caught. The moving tank dragged the other vehicle for several feet, and then the cable broke, pulling apart at the coupling fastened to Lieutenant Allie's tank. Relieved to find the tank able to move freely, the tank driver (Sgt. Guillory Johnson) increased his speed. Within a few minutes after leaving the south bank, the tank reached the lower end of the sand bar.

Originally, Lieutenant Allie had planned to proceed straight across, but once on the island, he could see at its east end what appeared to be footings for an old bridge. Crossing to the up-river end of the island, Lieutenant Allie turned into the water again. The tank dipped steeply into water that momentarily covered the hatches over Sergeant Johnson and his assistant driver, wetting both men. An experienced tank driver, Johnson at once increased the speed of the tank to keep the water from closing in behind the tank and drowning out the engine. The tank climbed out of the water ateach of the three old earthen bridge footings but, after a few seconds, it would plunge again into the water deep enough to come up to the turret ring. Nevertheless, after being in the water for two minutes or less, the tank reached the opposite bank.

After radioing back for the next tank in line to follow, Lieutenant Allie moved forward a short distance and then waited for the rest of his platoon. SFC Starling W. Harmon, following the same route with his tank, joined his platoon leader within five minutes. Wanting to have only one tank in the river at a time, Lieutenant Allie waited until Sergeant Harmon was on the north bank of the Han River before calling for the third tank. Because its escape hatch had jarred loose during the firing that morning, the third tank flooded out and stalled in the comparatively shallow water south of the island. Lieutenant Allie ordered his two remaining tanks, one at a time, to proceed around the stalled tank and cross.

With two tanks, Lieutenant Allie set out at 0830 to join the infantry. Having advanced a little more than a thousand yards, the infantrymen had stalled temporarily near a road that cut across the tip of land between the Pukhan and the Han. Enemy fire coming from a small hill and from a railroad embankment six hundred yards ahead had stopped them. The two tanks moved forward, directing their fire against the small hill. When fire from the hill stopped, the two tank crews turned their cannon toward the railroad embankment. There were six freight cars standing on the tracks. They had been burned and shot up, apparently during an air raid. The Chinese had placed three machine guns to fire under the cars into the area to the south. With their own machine guns and 12 or 15 rounds from their cannon, the tank crews quickly silenced the enemy guns. The infantrymen moved up even with the two tanks, a gain of six hundred yards. As the infantrymen moved beyond the railroad tracks, following the two tanks which ranged ahead, three other enemy machine guns commenced firing. Lieutenant Allie spotted one, laid on it with the 76-mm gun and fired two rounds, the second of which threw parts of bodies and weapons into the air. The other two tanks of Lieutenant Allie's platoon arrived in time to take part in the firing, and a tank commanded by MSgt. Curtis D. Harrell located and silenced another machine gun. Then, all four tanks raked the enemy positions with their coaxial machine guns during a thirty-minute period while the front line advanced approximately seven hundred yards to the objective.

In the meantime, as soon as Lieutenant Allie's tanks were on the north bank, Captain Brannon started another platoon across. Within twenty minutes these five tanks were moving forward to support another infantry company and the last platoon of tanks began to cross. By 1000 all Company A's tanks except one were moving forward with the assault companies; by noon Colonel Lee's 3d Battalion had reached its objective. The remaining tank, which had flooded out earlier in the morning when its escape hatchfell out, was repaired by midafternoon and successfully crossed the river. The river crossing was a success and, as Colonel Lee believed, the close support furnished by the tanks was a big factor in the outcome of the operation.


Too often there are recorded in tales of battle instances of commanders failing to remember the principle of the objective. Obstacles and fleeting attractions divert them from the accomplishment of their missions. A successful commander will always engage in a relentless pursuit of the end to be gained, but he will not be stubborn without reason. Rather, he tempers his tenacity with a spirit of adaptation to the fluid circumstances of the battlefield. Only explicit orders from a superior commander will relieve him from bending every effort of his command to the mission.

Captain Brannon and Lieutenant Allie were not content with a mere routine execution of close support. Once assigned their mission they showed courage, initiative, resourcefulness, and resolution in accomplishing it. When Scharnhorst was asked to comment on the appointment of Blucher to high command in the German Army, he wrote, "Is it not the manner in which the leaders carry out the task of command, of impressing their resolution in the hearts of others, that makes them warriors far more than all other aptitudes or faculties which theory may expect of them?"


  1. Unless otherwise cited, the information upon which this narrative is based was obtained from Capt. Herbert A. Brannon, Lt. Paul B. Harkness and Lt. Thomas J. Allie (all of Company A, 89th Medium Tank Battalion) in an interview by the author on 3 September 1951.
  2. 25th Infantry Division, command report: 35th Infantry Regiment, March (narrative section).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.

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