by JOSEPH TREVITHICK
In 1972, the U.S. Army published a handy comic book with tips and tricks on how to ambush and destroy Soviet tanks.
Presumably, the Army wanted to spur the interest of the average rifleman — a male somewhere between age 18 to 25. So the manual has cavemen, busty cavewomen and dinosaurs — yes, really — to go with the sometimes harebrained suggestions on how to be a “big game hunter.”
The illustrations are amazing. We’d best describe it as resembling the comic strip B.C. combined with a how-to guide on fighting a land war in Europe.
“One of the hairiest things an infantryman can meet on the battlefield is a tank,” the introduction from To Catch a Tank — “Big Game” Hunting Made Easy quickly admits. “[But] When you get right down to it, that big, ugly iron monster has a lot of weaknesses.”
When the first tanks appeared on European battlefields almost a century ago, soldiers rushed to come up with ways to stop them. But a 50-ton armored beast will still intimidate even the best-trained soldiers.
In this training manual, the tanks are literally beasts. Cavemen battle anthropomorphic tanks and dinosaurs, which stand in for Soviet armor. We obtained the comic book through the Freedom of Information Act, which you can enjoy in PDF format.
When the Army’s Infantry School put the publication together, regular American soldiers were probably happy to hear that Soviet vehicles were far from indestructible.
The Kremlin’s Group of Soviet Forces in Germany was almost entirely made up of tanks and troops in armored personnel carriers. Despite Washington’s restrained policy of detente, the Pentagon expected Moscow’s forces—and its Warsaw Pact allies—to pour into West Germany, possibly overrunning the country if World War III broke out.
Had this happened, American soldiers without tanks of their own risked being cut off by Soviet armor … and annihilated.
So it’s not surprising that the Army’s Antiarmor Board put together the comic with a slew of tried-and-true lessons. For instance, hulking war machines have trouble driving through dense forests, getting past walls and making it across wide trenches.
Tanks have poor visibility in most cases. Forcing crews to “button-up” inside their vehicles limits their vision even more. The vehicles’ tracks and lightly armored underbellies are generally vulnerable.
Soldiers should build obstacles or use their surroundings to “force the tank to go where you want it to go,” the handbook explains. Smoke grenades and artillery shells could quickly blind an enemy tank.
Perhaps most importantly, armored vehicles rely heavily on troops to protect them for anti-tank teams, especially in cities.
“The Infantry is the protection for the tank against you,” the comic book emphasizes. “Separate them from the tanks, then destroy the tanks!”
At the time, American troops were heavily armed with guided anti-tank missiles and dumb rockets. The TOW missile—still in use today—could knock out Soviet T-62 and T-64 tanks, while the M-72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon might be able to pick off smaller armored cars and personnel carriers.
Still, the comic caveman recommends soldiers try to ambush the vehicles if at all possible. Mines could also blow up or at least slow down armored columns.
If all else failed, grunts could try other spur-of-the-moment methods to get at enemy tankers. The manual describes all manner of improvised bombs and traps—some quite logical and others that read like very desperate measures.
Tanks and other vehicles are very vulnerable to flamethrowers and other incendiary weapons, which can choke off air to both the engine and the occupants—and are just generally terrifying.
The comic’s main character points out that troops can make Molotovs, Eagle Cocktails and Eagle Fireballs in the field.
The much more patriotic-sounding Eagle Cocktail is a jumble of gasoline and oil inside an empty sandbag or rain poncho, according to other Army training documents.
Next, soldiers could strap smoke and thermite grenades onto the sack. The thrower would pull the pins at the same time using a wire or other cord and chuck the whole thing like a football.
The larger Eagle Fireball is basically the same arrangement, but with an ammunition can instead of a soft pouch. This larger weapon is more akin to a mine, but a soldier would still have to pitch it at the enemy vehicle.
“If available, attach a rope with bent nails or a grapnel to the can,” a separate manual explains. “When you throw the can onto a vehicle, the bent nails or the grapnel will help hold the can on the vehicle.”
But troops could also just use these “expedient” flaming bombs to light fields, bushes or other undergrowth on fire, the guide points out. The smoke could blind armor crews just like more conventional smoke shells.
The Army’s tank hunters could make bolas out of a length of rope and blocks of C-4 or TNT, the handbook notes. Troops could wrap this arrangement around the main gun barrel, if they get close enough.
Soldiers lying in wait might kick off an ambush by pulling a plank laden with mines into the middle of the road, too.
“Of course, good camouflage is necessary” for anyone hoping to yank this “daisy chain” into position at just the right moment and live, the manual’s protagonist acknowledges—now wearing a mask like the Lone Ranger.
If soldiers stumbled into an ambush in a built-up area, they could use buildings to their advantage. “You can ice, oil or even soap a corner,” the anti-tank guide suggests.
“He’ll go out of control!” the manual adds. “Open fire when he stops bouncing off buildings!
We don’t know if anyone seriously considered trying this in combat. The idea of using washing powder to send a tank skidding into a wall sounds more like something from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.
“That isn’t all the tricks that have ever been used, by any means,” the comic insists at the end, citing experiences from World War II, Korea … and the 1956 Hungarian revolution.
“The only limit to what you can do to a tank is your own state of training, the condition of your weapons, your courage and …” the prehistoric narrator says. “Your imagination. Use it!”
If nothing else, the authors were clearly using their own imaginations when they wrote the manual.