Miniature Ordnance Review looks at the world of historical and fantasy miniatures wargaming and model building. From 15mm Flames of War, to Warhammer 40K, to 1/35th scale tanks, with some potential surprises on the horizon - you'll find them here!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The 761st Tank Battalion

If you look carefully at the US941 American Decals set from Battlefront,  among all of the various generic names, there are a few in a very unique script.  One of them is "Counter Attack" the other is "Cool Studs Inc."  Given how unique these decals are, one would rightly assume that they belong to specific vehicles.  In this case, both vehicles belong to the historic 761st Tank Battalion - the first African American tank unit to see combat.  While a few other African-American units from World War II, such as the Tuskegee Airmen, have gained great fame, fewer know about the exploits of the 761st, or Black Panthers as they called themselves.

Part of the problem is the dearth of really solid reference works on the Battalion.  Probably the best book is Wilson's The 761st Black Panther Tank Battalion in World War II.  His account doesn't diminish any of the prejudice or bigotry encountered by the battalion, but at the same time it doesn't minimize the positive contributions of others in the command chain.  Overall I found his account perhaps the most refreshingly honest and balanced of any modern work I've read on the Battalion.

Unfortunately as with most books on the Battalion, there are several instances where many technical details provided in the text are incorrect.  For example, Wilson incorrectly identifies M4A3(76)W tanks as M4A3E8 tanks (which had a different suspension than the earlier model, but the same gun).  Granted, the layman would view this as a nit-picky error, but for historians, war gamers, model builders, and the like the error is significant.  This gaffe isn't isolated as errors like this crop up frequently throughout the entire work detracting from an otherwise excellent history.  With a little additional research into the actual equipment used by the battalion, Wilson could have authored perhaps the ultimate work on this Battalion.  Maybe he'll release a revised edition at some point, but I doubt it.

I'm hoping to do a 761st Army at some point, but none of the current Battlefront lists are perfect fits for it.  As an armored battalion, the unit was frequently parceled out as infantry support.  Given the current lists one could probably build up an infantry list and use the 761st in support (in either 76mm Sherman or Stuart tanks). 

Regardless, I plan to build up miniatures detailing this amazing unit.  The hurdles they had to overcome to even reach combat were overwhelming, and their performance in the field was nothing short of amazing.  Kudos to Battlefront for remembering to include decals for the vehicles in their standard decal set.