Volume 5, Issue 2
August 12, 2009


Welcome to the fourteenth issue of "Heavy Metal" -- the newsletter of the

Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles (VMMV.) Our mission is our motto -- by working to restore armored fighting vehicles, artillery, small arms, uniforms, and accoutrements of the US military and other countries, we hope to share the legacy of the sacrifice and courage of our fighting men and women with future generations of Americans. Located in Northern Virginia, our collection has grown to over 90 vehicles, starting out with the first US tank, the M 1917 through such legendary US vehicles as the M4A1 and M4A3 Sherman , M3A1 and M5A1 Stuart , M24 Chaffee , M3A1 Half-track , M36 Jackson and M3 Lee along with a few vehicles you might not know existed -- such as a prototype of the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) tank.

Get to know your VMMV staff & vehicles
In this section we introduce you to the people and armor of the Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles. We will chat with the VMMV staff, so that you can get to know the people who "keep 'em running" and work so hard behind the scenes. And also provide a behind-the-scenes look into the history of individual vehicles in the VMMV collection. In this, our fourteenth newsletter, we interview one of VMMV's most fascinating volunteers and a veteran....LTC. Neal N., United States Army.

Neal and Allan at the tank farm.

Neal is an example of the amazing kind of volunteers at VMMV…experienced in many types of military operations, incredibly varied background and a couple of very unique anecdotes (Hint: they are measured in megatons!)

LTC. N. was drafted into the Army in 1945 at age 17 and had to have his father sign his induction papers. Initially assigned to the artillery, Neal changed to the infantry and was sent to the 6th Infantry Division in the Philippines and then on to Korea as part of the Occupation Force.

Neal stayed in Korea for about two years and got out in 1948, passing into the inactive reserve. Like so many of the "Greatest Generation," Neal went to college after WWII and got married. But events back in his old AOR interrupted his plans. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Neal was the first inactive reserve officer from the state of New Jersey to be recalled to active duty. Sometimes being first isn't the best! He was assigned to Fort Dix and was in charge of Basic Training for all the new inductees headed off to Korea. Most of the trainees went straight to war along with their instructors. But the Army personnel system had other plans for Neal.

Instead of the frozen mountains of Korea, Neal was assigned to Austria by sheer luck, no string pulling at all! He was assigned to the HQ of an intelligence unit and after a long talk with his wife, decided to go Regular Army and was sent to the 350th Infantry as a rifle company commander. His paperwork for his regular army appointment, however, came thru as Corps of Engineers, so Neal made a transition to his fourth military specialty and served in the 352nd Engineer Company (separate.) Because this was a "separate" unit, Neal reported directly to a Brigadier General, without having to go thru normal regimental channels....probably his "best tour."

Coming back to the States, Neal became an instructor at the Engineer School (located at nearby Fort Belvoir at the time.) While at the school, he specialized in Atomic Weapons Instruction and observed two of the TEAPOT DOME nuclear tests in the Nevada desert (more later.) Demonstrating the Army's commitment to education, Neal was sent to Lehigh University for graduate school and then back to US Forces Korea to serve on the Engineer Staff.

In Korea, Neal was in charge of monitoring the US nuclear weapons deployed on the peninsula. Not the bombs delivered by fighter aircraft, but munitions (BIG ONES) used by the US Army to destroy bridges and demolish infrastructure (commonly referred to as Atomic Demolition Munitions (ADM)) in order to slow a North Korean invasion. In the 1950's, Neal states that nuclear weapons were still pretty crude and that it was difficult to assemble the detonators….they had to be polished and inserted in precisely the correct order or the munitions would not go high order.

After that, another tour in the United States as Base Commandant for Fort Mason in San Francisco CA, right next to the Presidio. Fort Mason was the main staging point for US dependents transiting to the Pacific Theater, so Neal had a wide variety of jobs and duties, including servicing the federal prison at Alcatraz. And yes, Neal was locked up at Alcatraz once by the warden….but just for demonstration purposes!!! Then back to school again, this time to Fort Leavenworth. By this time, Neal was a Major.

From Fort Leavenworth, Neal resumed his atomic duties, but now in Germany as part of US Forces, Germany, Engineer Section. Neal briefed on the subject of US atomic weapons to NATO HQs and the French.

Like so many other US Army personnel, Neal was then sent to Vietnam in 1967-68, serving during the Tet offensive. Also, Neal was the focal point for coordinating logistics and resupply operations for the Marines during the battle of Khe Sanh. Neal supplied the USMC with beans and bullets and all the other vital supplies they needed. He worked in a supply chain stretching from Germany to Cam Ranh Bay. For his superb work during this battle, Neal was awarded the Legion of Merit personally by Gen. Creighton Abrams, - head of Military Assistance Command-Vietnam (MACV.)

After a tour back at the Pentagon, Neal was sent back to Vietnam in 1969 where he began planning for the retrograde movement of US army troops and supplies in case a truce was ever declared. Neal, now an O-5 light colonel, decided to get out of the US Army after 25 years in the latter part of 1969.

Now, on to a couple of specific questions.
LTC. N., as an engineer officer in Germany during the height of the Cold War, did you have any "special" assignments that you can now talk about?
Yes, one time several government types asked my engineering unit to help bury a couple of truckloads of weapons and explosives in the german countryside. We placed M1 and M2 carbines, M1 Garands, hand grenades, C-4 and other munitions in a hole, covered it up and then spread normal "garbage" across the top as a disguise. We later were told these caches were for an internal resistance movement organized by US special forces designed to operate behind enemy lines in case of a Soviet invasion.

What was the biggest blast you ever detonated or witnessed as an engineer officer?
Unfortunately, it was not by design. We were in Germany and had twenty five of the battalion trucks each towing a five ton trailer loaded with explosives ready to go. In case of invasion, our job was to take these explosives and drop bridges and blow holes in roads to slow up the Soviets. One of our soldiers was suffering from some mental health issues and got into the alert compound and blew up two trucks. Fortunately, I had a great relationship with the local burgermeister and we both worked to mitigate the consequences. I had my soldiers sweep the nearby town for any unexploded ordnance and repaired any damage. When the 3-star Corps Commander showed up in my office, I knew things were at a critical point, but luckily our strict adherence to on-base safety procedures vindicated all the wonderful men and women under my command.

Tell us about the incredible experience of participating in two nuclear blasts as a test subject.
As I said before, I was deeply involved in the operational use of atomic munitions for engineering demolition and was sent to Nevada for two of the TEAPOT DOME blasts. We were in a slit trench about 4000 meters from ground zero with very dark goggles on. After detonation, the pressure wave washed over us and we could feel the heat from the fireball and mushroom cloud. As dark as the blacked-out goggles were, we could still see the mushroom cloud perfectly because of its intensity. Then, we walked towards the recently formed crater, getting closer and closer until our dosimeters pegged!

What is your favorite military vehicle of all time?
Jeep!!! A fantastic, multipurpose vehicle that served the Army well for decades. My favorite tank is the M-24 Chaffee-good suspension, two V-8 engines and a useful gun for a light tank.

What is your favorite tank in the VMMV collection?
T-34. I believe it is the epitome of a WWII tank. At Kursk it was outstanding and fought the German Tigers and Panthers to a standstill. It was also innovative, using a pressurized air bottle to blow start the engine during the cold Soviet winters that would drain a battery in an instant.

Ketchup or Mustard?

From the Files of VMMV......

In this section, we will examine historical records and files on armor in World War II from the perspective of the British liaison office to the US War Department. Some of this correspondence discusses the capabilities and performance of US armor, other files are the British view of German armor, reflecting their understanding of the technical capabilities of the panzers they faced. VMMV is proud to be the custodian of these historical treasures and wishes to thank Mr.Peter Upton for donating his father's war time papers.

These files represent the actual understanding of the Allies of German armored fighting vehicles and represent a critical link between the myths and propaganda of both sides and the post-war technical exploitation. Some of the data may be incorrect or missing, represent critical intelligence that was unknown to the Allies at the time. You the reader are presented with the data in raw form to allow you to see the ground truth of Allied intelligence.

In our third installment, we will examine several documents associated with the Panzerkampfwagen III or PzKw III. The PzKw III was originally in 1935 designed as a 15-ton class tank mounting a 37mm cannon to engage enemy tanks while the 75mm-armed PzKw IV supported the infantry. Eventually the PzKw III grew to weigh 23 tons, mounting armor 70mm thick and sported a gun twice as big as originally designed….the 75mm L/24. The PzKw III was a workhorse of the German Panzer arm and served throughout the war, including as the chassis for several variants, most notably the Sturmgeschutz.

As with the PzKw I, we start with a document dated from 25 October 1943 showing British measurements of the armor thickness of three different models of the PzKw III.

The next three scans show top, side, front and rear views of the PzKw III Ausf J.

Click on images to enlarge


Lastly, we close with a detail view of the suspension and track of the PzKw III.

VMMV Acronym

The lexicon of armored vehicles is filling with a bewildering amount of acronyms. And at VMMV we have a few of our own. Here we will have the VMMV word of the day so you may better understand the conversations you might overhear at the museum.

Ground pressure: Ground pressure is the weight of a vehicle divided by its contact area with the ground and is a key metric for determining the "flotation" of an AFV…i.e. how easily a tank might be able to traverse muddy, soupy terrain. The lower the ground pressure, the better. In WWII, the renowned T-34 was able to negotiate swamps and boggy areas that were off limits to German panzers because of its relatively wide track compared to the narrow tracks of the PzKw III and IV.

So which has lower ground pressure; a tank or your family sedan? Let us do some math and see what the answer is. Now don't be scared by all these numbers.

Sedan weight: 3000lbs
Contact area with the ground: 4 tires, each with a 6 inch by 6 inch contact patch
(4 tires x 36 squares inches = 144 square inches touching the ground)
So we take the weight of the car and divide by its contact patch:
3000 lbs divided by 144 square inches = 21 lbs per square inch

Now a famous WWII tank, the Panther. A Panther's combat weight was about 98,560 lbs. Each track was 26 inches wide and about 15.5 feet (186 inches) of it touched the ground.
(2 tracks x 26 x 186 = 9,672 square inches)
So we take the weight of the Panther and divide by its contact patch:
98,560 divided by 9,672 square inches = 10 lbs per square inch

Thus, the Panther tank has much greater "flotation" than your typical family car despite weighing over 30 times as much!!

Mike Panchyshyn-Editor