What was the prevailing doctrine in the US Army on how to deal with German tanks during WWII? In an ideal situation, what sort of unit (anti-tank infantry, tank destroyers, towed AT guns, etc.) would be responsible for destroying panzers?

Doctrine can also differ quite dramatically from practice in the field. How were German tanks usually disposed of, in practice?


3 Answers 3


From the thesis linked by CGCampbell, American anti-tank doctrine was based around dealing with concentrated groups of German tanks on the offense, ie. a repeat of the invasion of France. To deal with this, dedicated anti-tank battalions were formed of tank destroyers: heavy anti-tank guns mounted on lightly-armored mobile platforms.

The thesis cites Field Manual 18-5 of 1942, Tactical Employment, Tank Destroyer Unit for doctrine. According to it, the basic procedure was that most tank destroyers should be held in reserve, to be committed in battalion strength when a concentrated group of enemy tanks was identified. Combat tactics were hit-and-run or ambush-based: since the tank destroyers were fragile, mobility, visibility, and superior intelligence were to be used to attack while not being attacked in turn.

In general, this doctrine was ignored. German tanks were rarely found in the massive concentrations envisioned, and as a result, tank destroyers were deployed in small groups and treated as "fragile tanks" to directly support infantry. In general, German tanks were deployed in platoon-scale or smaller units, and were dealt with by ground-attack aircraft (#1 cause of combat losses) or towed anti-tank guns (#2), with other methods (tanks, tank destroyers, infantry anti-tank weapons) seeing use only when those were unavailable.


The US philosophy was not "send tanks to kill tanks" but instead specialized tank destroyer units. These were more mobile than the 88s that the Germans tended to use for AT purposes when not using tanks as tank killers. The idea is that the TD units would fire at the tanks from one position, zip off elsewhere and fire again using their speed. I don't recall a famous towed AT gun used by the US, like German 88s.

Shermans were then intended to be free to zoom off into the enemy hinterland.

In practice, the TDs, even more lightly armored than Shermans, took heavy losses since they didn't have any better range than the enemy tanks. So Shermans were increasingly used against the often superior German tanks, and other means were also used. The massive concentrations of US regular artillery were very effective if they could catch tank formations at a standstill. US airpower was also effective in tank killing.

  • Doesn't answer the question's part about the regulatory doctrine (written).
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 19:18
  • I think 'on paper' means 'in theory' rather than quotes from the relevant army field manual. However, feel free to write an answer rather than mark down those trying to give information.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 21:17
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    I will. It will take a while though. I apologize for being curt, but I thought here in History we expect more in the sources and exposition departments.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 23:00

As a matter of principle, the main weapon against a tank is another tank. Since, the German tanks were much superior to the US tanks (the Sherman), this obviously created a problem. About 3 months after D-Day troops started to get access to the M36 tank destroyer which the first weapon we had which was truly effective against Germany heavy armor. A more important weapon for US troops was borrowed from the British, the QF 6-pounder, known as an "M1" among US troops.

Of course there were other anti-tank methods. P-47 Thunderbolts had a type of bomb they could try to drop on a tank, but obviously it was not easy to execute such a bombing. We also had bazookas, which were both unreliable and ineffective. In normal combat, tanks are accompanied by support troops which are supposed to prevent any enemy infantry from getting anywhere near the tanks, certainly not within bazooka range. Thus, handheld anti-tank weapons only become a factor when tanks speed ahead of their support and attempt to blitz an infantry position. Even in this situation, unless the infantry has good cover it will be hard to set up a kill position. During the North African campaign some general wanted to justify more weapons being delivered, so he asked for a report on the number of German tanks destroyed by bazookas and the answer came back as "0".

To answer your question, the "real" doctrine on the ground by real soldiers was to plant AT mines in places where they thought a German tank might try to approach and to hide. In larger battles the doctrine was to counter with Shermans in large numbers and try to withdraw to positions with artillery support, such as M1s or M36s if you were lucky enough to have those.

  • Doesn't answer the question's part about the regulatory doctrine (written).
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 19:17
  • @CGCampbell Written anti-tank doctrine??? You know that during after D-Day most of the 18-year-olds we were shipping over there hadn't even been through basic training. Many of them hadn't even handled or fired a rifle before. I highly doubt any "written doctrine" even existed, and if it did it had absolutely zero significance for men fighting the war. Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 22:03
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    If you had done even the most basic research you might have found the Master's thesis I linked in comment above. In its bibliography I count 3 US Army Field Manuals explicitly for Tank Destroyers. This is the US Army we're talking about. There are field manuals for everything. Doctrine most certainly would not have been significant to the grunts on the front lines, but I guarantee all of the officers (excepting field promotions) would know their business. Try again, please.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 22:58
  • @CGCampbell I considered getting into the minutiea of tank destroyer tactics to beyond the scope of the question. You already listed that thesis which he can read if he wants to. I interpreted the question as asking what general kinds of equipment was used, not the details of how to use that equipment, about which whole books have been written. Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 0:47
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    @TylerDurden To clarify, when I said "doctrine" I did indeed mean how equipment was used, in addition to the types of equipment used. As for the use of mines, was that widely tactic widely practiced? Source? Seeing as the Americans were on the offensive much of post D-Day, it seems a defensive weapon such as mines would be ineffective. Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 4:42

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