The 3rd Armored Division's participation in the Persian Gulf
War casts a familiar image in the mirror of time, an image that
bears a likeness to the version of 3rd Armored that fought during
World War II.
Historian Dan Peterson, who has been with the division since
1979, asserts that history repeats itself. And the facts don't
lie when pointing out similarities in the division's role and
success in both the Gulf War and World War II.
In both armed conflicts. 3rd Armored stood out as one of the
heaviest divisions in the Army. "Having more tanks than
any other division, 3rd Armored was one of the heaviest armored
divisions during World War II. The division was also one of two
divisions to have the M-26 Pershing tank, which was the heaviest
U.S. tank toward the end of World War II. The other division
was the 9th Armored Division, now deactivated. Now, 3rd Armored
is one of the few divisions to have the M1A2 Abrams heavy tank,
making it still one of the heaviest divisions in the Army,"
said the 36-year-old Peterson, a native of El Paso, Texas.
As far as training, in the beginning of World War II, 3rd
Armored spent plenty of time preparing for desert warfare in
anticipation of fighting in North Africa. "By 1943, due
to the war being over in Africa, 3rd Armored was destined to
fight in Europe," Peterson said. In the Gulf War, the division
once again had to gear up for desert combat, which took place
on the sands of Iraq and Kuwait.
In regard to the leadership, Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose, commanding
general during World War II, was known as an up-front commander
in much the same way Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk has been known in
the Gulf War.
Marching into enemy territory also had common links between
both wars. The 23rd Engineer Battalion breached the Siegfried
line, which was the defensive line on the German border, as part
of the Allied invasion during World War II. The same unit nearly
45 years later performed almost the exact same feat by breaching
the berm along Iraq's border.
One of the longest marches in one day during World War II
was performed by 3rd Armored when the division went from Marburg
to Paderbom, nearly a 100-mile journey into enemy territory.
3rd Armored Division performed a similar feat by traveling about
120 miles, from Saudi Arabia to Iraq and into Kuwait, in three
In less than two weeks during World War II, 3rd Armored passed
over three European countries: France, Belgium and Germany. In
the gulf War, the division took three days to pass through three
Southwest Asian countries: Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait.
As with World War II, the Gulf War was a coalition effort.
Further, many of the Allies were the same, most notably Britain
and France. The Soviet Union, while not an active military partner
in the Gulf War, returned as an Allied partner since the "great
patriotic war," or World War II. While the Soviets patiently
sat on the sidelines of the Gulf War, Italy (an Axis Power in
World War II) didn't even suit up.
Even 3rd Armored enemies had something in common. 3rd Armored
fought against Adolf Hitler's elite troops: the Waffen SS. The
Waffen SS was a separate army that worked for Hitler and the
SS. Once again, during the Gulf War, 3rd Armored went up against
the best, Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard. Both the German
and Iraqis were battle hardened veterans. The Germans had been
at war since 1939 and the Iraqis were involved in a bitter war
with Iran from 1980 to 1988. And both the Germans and Iraqis
saved countless lives as they surrendered by the hundreds toward
the end of their respective wars. The uniforms that American
Tankers wore during both wars were also similar. "The uniform
was a one-piece coverall with a tanker' s jacket, which had a
zippered front with knit cuffs. The uniform of the tankers during
World War II inspired the uniform of the tankers now," Peterson
said. "After World War II, the Army discontinued the one-piece
uniform, but in recent years was reissued. The tanker of today
looks like the tanker of World War II."
The shoulder patch that 3rd Armored soldiers proudly wear
on their uniform was also the same in both wars. "In World
War II, the patch didn't have the Spearhead title, but after
the division's lightning drive across France, it was worn unofficially
in the later parts of the war," Peterson said.
But it would be a mistake to say that the conflicts weren't
without their differences.
In World War II, 3rd Armored didn't have the more sophisticated
battle machinery, as did their enemies. "In World War II,
the division had optical sights in tanks that were smaller and
lighter. The enemy had a distinct advantage that their tanks
were heavier and could engage targets at greater distances due
to better sights.
"Desert Storm was the reversal. We could knock out the
Iraqi tanks before they could engage us, as the Germans could
in World War II. Also, now we're the ones who have the heavier
and better equipped tanks. The division is just far more powerful
than it was during World War II," Peterson said.
Training, Peterson also pointed out, seemed to be a big difference.
"The big edge we have is on training. With the simulators
we use to train on, we have the best trained soldiers. No one
can use all the ammunitions on ranges that we can use on the
simulators. Certainly, our adversaries didn't have that training."
One other difference was control of the ground, as well as
the air. "Even though we had the lighter unsophisticated
tanks in World War II, what helped us win was complete air control.
In Desert Storm, we had better vehicles to ensure ground control,
and had complete air control. It was stacked against our enemy."
But still there is one thing that just keeps echoing. It's
the sound of victory. 3rd Armored Division emerged the victor
in both wars. Peterson summed it up eloquently, "History
does always repeat itself. 3rd Armored Division was the Spearhead
in both wars."