The VANG is very lucky that a number of years ago someone had the foresight to pack away and save all of the paper State Headquarters documents from the 1920s to the early 1960s.
With the end of WWII and the tremendous showing by American Armor units in defeating the Nazis, one would reasonably assume that the postwar army would want to have many tank units in the regular Army and in the Reserve Components. In many cases this was true but for some reason Virginia did not have Armor units for a while.
These recently uncovered documents give some explanation as to why the VANG had little or no tanks after the war:
1. This 1947 letter from BG Waller, the Adjutant General of Virginia, to the National Guard Bureau explains that the Virginia State Highway Commissioner doesn’t allow steel wheels/tracks on state roads and the bridges in the state cannot hold the weight of the tanks. So Waller requested Combat Engineers in their place….
2. The second letter, written in response to the 1st letter is actually more interesting— an Army Ground Force senior leader explains to Colonel Sheppard Crump how to get around the weight restrictions on bridges and he should know:
The writer is BG Bruce C. Clarke and in WWII, he commanded Combat Command A (CCA) of the 4th Armored Division in General George S. Patton’s Third Army. He led it to victory over a superior German armored force at the Battle of Arracourt in September 1944.
(VANG Historian’s note: also serving in the 4th Armored Division was VANG LTC Bill Bailey, former commander of Danville’s 29th Tank Company. He and LTC Thornton Mullins, Commander of the 111th FA Bn, were the two highest ranking VANG officers killed in action in WWII. )
In December 1944 Clarke also led the defense of St. Vith during the Battle of the Bulge, which slowed the German attack. Writing afterward, General Eisenhower credited Clarke’s actions as the “turning point” in that battle.”
It’s nice to find in our files a personally signed letter from a true Army legend—Clarke enlisted in the Coast Artillery for WWI, joined the NYARNG after the war, went to West Point, was an Armor commander in WWII, Commanded I Corps in the Korean War, Commanded the US Army Pacific and the Army Ground Forces in the 50s and then USAREUR in the 60s when he retired.
The M4A3E8 Sherman tank on display at the JFHQ at DSCR and dedicated in honor of all WWII veterans.
Till next time when we will walk again through the history of the Virginia National Guard; one event or one document at a time.
Alexander F. Barnes
CW4 (ret), VaARNG
VANG Command Historian
Virginia National Guard Historic Foundation