Military History – July 2013 – Letters From Readers

Camouflage and a ‘Chia Tank’
Great job by Stephan Wilkinson on the history and future of “Camouflage” (May).

That night, a company of wet Chia Tanks ‘attacked’ across open terrain. All that appeared through the defensive gunner’s sights were the disembodied faces of the tank commanders floating a dozen feet off the ground

In 1994, while assigned as executive officer of 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division, I was involved in a camouflage experiment intended to hide the heat signature of the M1A1 Abrams tank. It was a decidedly low-tech option and consisted of attaching tan shag carpeting to the front and sides of the tank. Some research group showed up at Fort Hood with custom-cut panels of the shag. The panels were attached to the vehicle using 3-inch-wide strips of hook-and-loop fasteners. The carpeting encased the turret, deck and side armor of the tanks. Crews promptly nicknamed the camouflaged vehicles “Chia Tanks,” after the popular Chia Pet of late-night commercial fame.

After a few adjustments and improvements to keep the carpeting from fouling the turret and gun tubes, we set off for a two-week field exercise. In the daytime, when hiding from the human eye, the carpeting gave the vehicles a softer outline when compared to the sharp, slab surfaces of the uncarpeted tanks. It also cut down on the light reflected off of the armored slabs. The carpets collected and held all of the dust kicked up by the tanks and enabled them to quickly blend into the local background color. There was also about an 80 percent decrease in the amount of heat signature seen through the thermal sights. A fortuitous thunderstorm revealed that wet carpet completely eliminated the tank’s heat signature. That night, a company of wet Chia Tanks “attacked” across open terrain. All that appeared through the defensive gunner’s sights were the disembodied faces of the tank commanders floating a dozen feet off the ground. It was eerie looking.

There were two drawbacks to the carpet camouflage: The first was that the exhaust of the Abrams was still visible when viewed from the back or rear quarter. In the troop’s mind, it was greatly outweighed by the fact that the carpet camouflage provided a nice soft back deck to sleep on. That advantage, however, was soon nullified when it was found that fleas, attracted to the trapped heat of the carpet, multiplied prodigiously and, by the end of the exercise, had thoroughly infested the camouflage. That, plus the mildew and the sour carpet smell, made the tanks almost unlivable after two weeks.

After the field exercises the testers took their findings back to their labs. The carpet camo was hauled to the dump. The tanks were given a thorough cleaning, disinfecting and fumigating, along with the crews.

As far as I know, that was the last of the Chia Tank experiments.

Major Michael J. Foncannon
U.S. Army (Ret.)
Science Hill, Ky.

Chosin
Wonderful piece (“Close Call at Chosin,” by Thomas E. Ricks, May) on the Marines and especially Maj. Gen. O.P. Smith. The general was always a Marine hero to me for bordering on insubordination with Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond and indirectly to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. How MacArthur gets the Medal of Honor for the Philippines but Smith nothing for leading from the front his division out of the “Frozen Chosin” I’ll never understand.

Major John H. Thompson
U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
Ogden, Utah

Forest Brothers
Edward G. Lengel’s article “Lithuania vs. U.S.S.R.,” in the March issue, is special to me. Our family resided in Lithuania before fleeing westward when the Soviets approached in 1944.

The Lithuanian struggle against the invaders, first the communists (1940–41, the first Soviet occupation) and then the Nazis (1941–44), is a subject with which I am familiar. The Russians executed those they saw as reactionaries and deported to Siberia whole families they thought to be dangerous or bourgeois. The Germans were more selective. Those suspected of being active in the underground, when captured, were shipped off to such concentration camps as Stutthof.

John Vazbys
Mahwah, N.J.

Davy Crockett?
Your article on the Davy Crockett [Power Tool, by Jon Guttman, March] caught my eye. I spent the summer of 1962 at Fort Riley, Kan.—1st Infantry Division—assisting in the testing of something called the Davy Crockett atomic cannon. My recollection was that a lot of money and time was spent on this weapon, but I never heard anymore about its actual implementation after I was discharged. That is until a couple of years ago, when I read an article entitled “The 10 Worst Weapons Considered by the U.S. Military.” Davy was No. 6 on the list. Its knock was that its implosion area was larger than its range. Could it be the same Davy Crocket as in your article?

Mike Gresock
Canton, Mich.

Research Director Jon Guttman responds: Thanks for the memories, but believe it or not, they may be a tad crossed. Before the Davy Crockett recoilless gun, the best the U.S. Army was able to come up with for a tactical nuclear weapon was the M65 280mm atomic cannon (aka “Atomic Annie”), a 43-foot-long, 47-ton monstrosity that entered service in 1953 and was actually deployed to Korea and Germany, as well as American bases, until 1963, when the more mobile Davy Crockett system rendered it obsolete. Of the 20 M65s produced, eight survive, including one at Fort Riley. Perhaps the testing you describe was comparative, leading to Davy Crockett eclipsing Atomic Annie once and for all.

Drake Landed Where?
Your article “Interior: Drake Landed at Point Reyes, Calif.” [by Brendan Manley, March] reveals the Interior Department is not aware of new data on the Drake landing site. Detailed research for the past 30 years shows that the landing site was at the Goleta Slough near Santa Barbara in central California. It fits all of the sparse information on the landing site and matches the drawing on the Hondius Broadside map that once hung in Whitehall Palace in London. The facts for this site are published in my book Sir Francis Drake in Central California, 1579 (2006) and three earlier works.

Justin M. Ruhge
Lompoc, Calif.

Editor responds: As we stated in our article, while many historians cite Point Reyes as Drake’s landing site, others have suggested alternatives ranging from San Diego north to Alaska. And so the debate continues.

Soviet Source
A caption on P. 58 of the May 2013 portfolio “War/Photography” refers to a photo of a 1941 Soviet attack on the Eastern Front in World War II. Our source incorrectly tagged it to the Battle of Stalingrad, which was in 1942–43. We regret repeating the error.

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