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Charles Moore
Charles Moore

Death Traps: A Critique of the American Tank Program in World War II by Belton Y. Cooper

Death Traps: The Survival of an American Armored Division in World War II by Belton Y. Cooper

World War II was one of the most devastating and destructive wars in human history. It involved millions of soldiers, civilians, weapons, vehicles, and machines that fought across different continents and oceans. Among these, tanks were one of the most important and influential inventions that changed the course of warfare. Tanks were armored vehicles that could move fast, fire powerful guns, and withstand enemy fire. They were used by both sides to break through enemy lines, support infantry attacks, defend key positions, and exploit breakthroughs.

death traps belton cooper pdf 11

However, not all tanks were created equal. Some tanks were more advanced, reliable, effective, and deadly than others. One of these tanks was the German Panther tank, which was widely regarded as one of the best tanks of World War II. It had a thick armor, a long-range gun, a high speed, a good maneuverability, and a sophisticated design. It was a formidable opponent for any Allied tank that faced it on the battlefield.

On the other hand, one of the most common and widely used tanks by the Allies was the American M4 Sherman tank. It was a medium tank that was mass-produced, easy to maintain, versatile, and adaptable. It was also the main tank of the 3rd Armored Division, one of the most famous and decorated American armored units of World War II. The 3rd Armored Division fought in many major battles and campaigns in Europe, from Normandy to the Rhine, from the breakout to the Bulge, from the Siegfried Line to the end of the war. It was nicknamed "Spearhead" for its role as a spearhead of the Allied advance into Germany.

However, the Sherman tank was also plagued by many problems and disadvantages. It had a thin armor, a short-range gun, a high profile, a low speed, and a poor visibility. It was often outmatched and outgunned by the German tanks, especially the Panther and the Tiger. It was also prone to catch fire and explode when hit by enemy shells or mines. It was a death trap for many of its crew members who were killed or wounded in action.

This is the story of Death Traps: The Survival of an American Armored Division in World War II by Belton Y. Cooper. It is a memoir and a history book that tells the personal and collective experiences of the author and his comrades in the 3rd Armored Division during World War II. It is also a critique and a commentary on the American tank design, production, and doctrine that led to the high casualties and losses of the division and other American armored units in Europe. It is a book that challenges some of the myths and misconceptions about World War II, tank warfare, and military history.


Death Traps is a book that was written by Belton Y. Cooper, who was a junior officer in the 3rd Armored Division during World War II. He served as an ordnance officer, which meant that he was responsible for the supply, maintenance, repair, recovery, and disposal of the tanks and other vehicles of the division. He was also a witness and a participant in many of the battles and events that shaped the course of the war in Europe.

The book is based on Cooper's personal diary, letters, photographs, documents, interviews, and research that he collected and conducted over the years after the war. He wrote the book in 1998, when he was 76 years old, after he retired from his career as an engineer and a businessman. He decided to write the book because he felt that he had a duty and an obligation to tell the truth about what he saw and experienced during the war. He also wanted to honor and remember his fallen comrades who sacrificed their lives for their country.

The book is divided into five parts, each covering a different phase or aspect of the war in Europe. The book has 24 chapters, each focusing on a specific battle or event that Cooper participated in or witnessed. The book also has an introduction, a preface, an epilogue, an appendix, a bibliography, an index, and several maps and photos that illustrate the book.

The main argument and thesis of the book is that the American Sherman tank was inferior to the German Panther tank in almost every way, and that this disparity resulted in unnecessary deaths and injuries for many American tankers who fought in World War II. Cooper argues that this situation was caused by several factors, such as:

  • The lack of foresight and vision by the American military leadership and industry in developing and producing better tanks that could match or surpass the German tanks.

  • The bureaucratic inertia and resistance to change by the American Army Ordnance Department and other agencies that were responsible for designing, testing, approving, and procuring tanks and other weapons.

  • The false sense of complacency and superiority by the American military command and public opinion that underestimated and ignored the German threat and capabilities.

  • The political pressure and interference by the American government and Congress that influenced the allocation of resources and priorities for war production.

  • The logistical difficulties and constraints faced by the American forces in transporting and supplying tanks and other equipment across the Atlantic Ocean.

Cooper claims that these factors prevented or delayed the introduction of better tanks, such as the M26 Pershing tank, that could have saved many lives and improved the performance of the American armored forces in Europe. He also claims that these factors contributed to some of the strategic mistakes and operational blunders made by the American military leadership during the war.

Cooper's purpose in writing this book is to expose some of the flaws and failures of the American tank program during World War II, and to offer some lessons and 71b2f0854b


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