The 761st Tank Battalion was an independent tank battalion of the United States Army during World War II. The 761st was made up primarily of African-American soldiers
The 761st Tank Battalion was an independent tank battalion of the United States Army during World War II. The 761st was made up primarily of African-American soldiers, who by federal law were not permitted to serve alongside white troops; the military did not officially desegregate until after World War II.
They were known as the "Black Panthers" after their unit's distinctive insignia; their motto was "Come out fighting". The battalion received a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions. In addition, a large number of individual members also earned awards, including one Medal of Honor and 11 Silver Stars
Before and during World War II, American military leaders had reservations about using African American soldiers in combat.
The US Army began to experiment with segregated combat units in 1941
Before and during World War II, American military leaders had reservations about using African American soldiers in combat. General Lesley J. McNair, the commander of Army Ground Forces, successfully argued that "colored" units should be employed in combat. At McNair's suggestion, the US Army began to experiment with segregated combat units in 1941; the program was supported by, and given national exposure in, Life magazine. The 761st was constituted on 15 March 1942, and activated 1 April 1942, at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. The battalion began training in M5 Stuart light tanks.
They learned how to maneuver, mount, dismount, and maintain the vehicle's 37 mm main gun and .30 caliber machine guns. Final training was at Fort Hood, Texas, where they were upgraded to the M4 Sherman medium tank, which had a 75 mm main gun, two .30 caliber machine guns, a .50 caliber machine gun, and a two-inch smoke mortar.
Most of the black tankers had to train in installations located in deep Southern states such as Kentucky, Louisiana, and Texas. In the days before the civil rights advances made in the 1960s, black people were still treated harshly in the South and often considered an inferior race.The men of the 761st trained for almost two years, conscious of the fact that white units were being sent overseas after as little as two or three months.
There were many acts of racism, including murder, against the black battalion troops by soldiers, including a riot in Alexandria on January 10th, 1942 two months prior to the battalion's activation which resulted in many people being beaten, teargassed, and fired upon by pistols and shotguns, resulting in numerous casualties. Several members of the 761st vowed to retaliate. They commandeered six tanks and a half-track but were persuaded by Lieutenant Colonel Bates who promised to straighten the situation out.