Excerpts from Snapshots: The Combat Record of the Medium Tank M4 As Told by The Crews That Fought Them, 2289, Renton University Press:
MG David Mcneil, CRA (Ret). Chief of CRA Armored Force from 2278 to 2282, MG Mcneil was the only Chief of the Armored Force to have begun his military career as an enlisted soldier. He also was a member of the 1st Sqdn (Tank), 1st Armored Brigade’s “First Class”, the first tank unit to be transitioned to the Medium Tank M4. Known for his highly aggressive leadership style and personal bravery, Mcneil has the dubious distinction of having bailed out of a Medium M4 from every hatch and every crew position. He has 38.875 tank kills and a further 47 probable kills, and has received eight Purple Heart medals. A renowned polymath, Mcneil holds advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and history, and currently splits his time between teaching military science at the Cascadian Military Academy and consulting with several defense contractors.
On first encountering the Medium M4:
Up until that point, we had been using the Medium M3, a fairly serviceable, if dated design by the late ‘30s. At that point, I was a fresh-faced nineteen year old private first-class, and while we knew our M3s weren’t quite the firebreathing impenetrable powerhouses that some of the more sensational papers made them out to be, we were damn proud of them and we thought they were pretty hot stuff. I remember the day that we were first introduced to the Medium M4. Our Squadron was loaded into a convoy of deuce-and-a-halfs and we were driven to the Renton Locomotive plant. Once we got there and had been shepherded to a set of bleachers outside this big field, our CO, Mike Anderson, a man who I then hated but would come to respect more than anyone except perhaps God and my mother, stood in front of us, and explained why we were there -- the Government had decided we were to get a new tank, they’d bought one, and they had chosen us to be the lab-rats for the field trials and IOC. He then called us to attention, turned on his heel, and waved to a guy by the corner of a nearby building, and we heard it for the first time. We all knew what a tank starting up sounded like -- you had the whine of the solenoid, the coughing and then roar of the engine as it spun and caught, and then a rumble as it settled down to idle. This was different -- all we heard was a quiet whine, which built to a sort of whistle. Of course, we’d all heard about jet engines, and seen video of the old pre-war Abrams, and some of us even read Aviation Week and knew that PacAero was working on turboprop and turbojet aircraft, but we figured that a tank turbine was a technical impossibility in the late 2230s.
The first thing we saw was the gun, which is one of the better ways to spot an M4 Medium. The damn thing is so long that it’s hard not to miss it, but we saw this gigantic barrel coming around the corner and one of my very good friends, Tony Anglio, whispered to me something like “This has to be some kind of joke, that gun’s bigger than our friggin tank!”. Then, the hull just sort-of floated into view. The double-acting torsion bars and massive shock absorbers on the M4 gave it a very distinctly floaty ride, since they were designed for a substantially heavier vehicle than the already-heavy M4. The thing that really struck all of us, I think, was how quiet the damn thing was, despite its large size. That said, the M4 was just a mean looking bastard. The M3 Medium was almost cute in its very traditional construction, and well-proportioned lines, while the M4 looked strange in comparison. We wouldn’t find out until later exactly why it had all the tiles and the fairly flat armor, at the time we figured it was steel, and a lot of it.
The M4 was always full of surprises. Once we saw it and got used to the sound, we figured, well, okay, it’s going to be pretty slow -- it’s got all that thick armor and that great big gun, and it’s fairly small. As if on cue, when it got right in front of the bleachers, the driver hit the gas and the damn thing took off! We would come to appreciate the amount of time and effort the Renton boys had put into the vehicle, and the lengths they had taken to finally give Cascadian tankers a technological edge over our Californian enemies.
On actually fighting the M4 Medium
The thing to keep in mind about the M4 -- and I mean the M4, not the M4A1 or A2, because each of those was almost a different tank in how heavily they upgraded them -- is that even for all its advancements, it was still a product of the era. Yes, it had a very advanced gun-laying system and two-axis stabilization, but they were fairly slow, and a lot of the better gunners got very adept at using the reticle to range the target. The automatic rangefinder still took a good four seconds of steadily tracking a target with an unbroken sight picture, not an easy feat in combat, and the mechanism really wasn’t technically mature, but it worked enough of the time to be a suitable stand-in for the laser rangefinders that replaced it. Oh, and the damn thing would stop working whenever the Contact explosive reactive armor tiles near the rangefinder blisters went off -- half the time we either took them off or replaced them with a chunk of solid steel, just so that we didn’t have to recalibrate the rangefinder. They never really fixed that, either.
At first, the M4 had hands-down the best armor in the world -- unsurprising, since it was more or less an unabashed copy of the HAP-1 package off the Prewar M1A1HA Abrams. It was easy to get lulled into a false sense of security by the ERA and the composite armor, and forget that the thickest the hull got was only three inches. It was quite common for the detonation of the ERA tiles to dent and bend the ¾” outer shell of the tank, especially the RAT tiles on the bow -- when they went off, it was something like 16 pounds of Composition B throwing a 12-pound steel plate into the hull.
On the Battle of Yreka, the combat debut of the M4 Medium
The gun and mobility on the M4 were exemplary. When we first hit the battlefield it gave those Calif[ornian]s a shock, let me tell you. I remember the first combat action we took. We were dug in on a ridgeline, had a line of sight out, damn must have been four kilometers or more. We’d just had our breakfast and buttoned up when they hit us. That was the first time I’d been under the “VT” shells. Proximity fuse, you see. All the fun of tree bursts without the trees. Then they laid in smoke. So thick you couldn’t hardly see the end of the gun barrel out the periscope. Played hell with the automatic rangefinders, not that they worked much anyway. Somehow we made it work. With a battalion of Califoria’s finest coming at a company of Cascadian Regulars, there’s not much of a choice anyhow. We held fire on ell-tee’s orders until a thousand meters. Then the whole platoon let go in one volley. They must have thought the gates of hell opened on ‘em or something. They had us three-to-one, but our position, armor and gun made it closer to even money. All I remember is Charlie, the TC, his fire commands. ‘Gunner tank 800 meters front AP fire’ then ‘Identified on the way’ and then ‘gunner new target 750m front’ and so on like that. I was in my own little world, y’know? I think we got four or five that day. And I thought to myself, this is it, the perfect tank.
1. LCOL Mark Ishmael Karol Edward Anderson was killed in action in March, 2243 defending Klamath Falls. He was posthumously awarded the Washington Cross with Valor Device for his actions.
2. SSgt. Tony Anglio, CRA (Ret.) served with distinction against both Mormon and Californian forces from the mid-2230s into the 2250s. He retired in 2265 after 24 years of service, primarily in the Armored Force.
3. The M4A1 incorporated an improved engine, revised and upgraded armor packages, and a refined, 55-caliber gun. The M4A2, the “Digital Four” (earning crude nicknames like Fister and Shocker), incorporated a fully electronic fire control computer and a laser rangefinder, new stabilizers, even heavier armor, electro-optical sighting systems, a new gas turbine and transmission, thermal imagers, and a version of the pre-war Watervliet M256 120mm 44-caliber gun. The current M4A3 brings the tank to its fourth gun, the M360A1 120mm 52-caliber smoothbore, it’s third engine, sixth armor package, and incorporates an active protection system and greatly improved laser rangefinder.
4. B Coy, 1/1 Tanks dug in on the ridgeline between old CA route 263 and US I-5 about two miles north of Yreka, CA on the night of March 22, 2240. A Coy. was arrayed to the north, slightly further up I-5, and C Coy. and the Dragoon Battalion of 1st Tanks occupied Yreka itself, with B-1/1 and 2bn of the 4th (Olympia) Infantry Bde. preparing for an assault on Siskiyou County Airport the next morning. Shortly before the jump-off time, the Californian 1st Battalion, 3rd Guards Heavy Tank Regiment, of the elite 8th Guards Shock Air Force Parachute-Tank Division Kamala Harris (An homage to a semi-mythological early 21st century politician revered by the Californians) launched a spoiling attack consisting of eighty two Mark Six heavy tanks and fifty two half-track infantry carriers, supported by significant tube artillery. This represented ten percent of the Californian inventory of Mark Six heavy tanks at the time. In a battle that firmly established the fearsome reputation of both LCol. M.I.K.E. Anderson and the M4 Medium, as well as the extreme ideological indoctrination of the Communist Guards-divisions, B Coy, 1/1 Tanks blunted and stopped the Californian attack, then began a vicious counterattack that included LCol. Anderson’s tank being disabled by infantry attack whilst he lead a headlong pursuit of the retreating enemy, after which he is rumored to have fought off an element of the Communist forces with a pistol and saber.
5. MG Charles M. Dietz, CRA (Ret) was one of three crewman in Barely Legal (M4 S/N 10052, now preserved at the Cascadian Military Museum, Renton) who attained the rank of Major General (including MG McNeil and MG Dana R. Carter, CRA (Ret). The loader, Sergei I. Danilov, reached the rank of Colonel before his death at the hands of Deseret agents during his tenure as commander, 4th Armored Cavalry Bde. He was killed during a running gunbattle in the streets of Pocatello, Idaho Territory, in 2265. His assassination was a great loss, as he was working on writing an operational maneuver doctrine based on pre-war Soviet and American work.