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Hohenfels trades ‘The Butcher’ for new ‘Tonka tank’

Training area scraps M60A3s, stocks up on smaller, sleeker tank

HOHENFELS, Germany — Parked next to each other on an asphalt lot at the Hohenfels training area last week, the M60A3 tank and its small, shiny replacement looked like an old, menacing junkyard dog lying next to a yippy new puppy.

Sporting thick, rusty tracks, a dented fender and decades worth of scars and notches, the hoary M60 — one of the last in use by any Army unit, according to Hohenfels officials — cut the image of the growling Cold War monster it was created to be close to 40 years ago.

Even its name felt heavy and mean: Der Metzger — “The Butcher,” in German — while the replacement tank next to it has been nicknamed, among other things, “the Tonka tank.”

But it was The Butcher that was headed for the chopping block last week as the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment sent the last of its approximately 40 M60s off to the salvage yard to be scrapped for parts.

The departure of the M60s, which were officially retired by the 1-4 Infantry earlier this spring, was bittersweet for some soldiers and a relief for other tired of the pounding, mechanical headaches they caused.

“Part of me is sad to see it go, but in the long run, it’ll probably be better,” said Capt. Justin Barclay, a maintenance officer and former tanker for the 1-4 Infantry.

Over time, the tanks had proved durable and become familiar, said the 1-4’s commander, Col. Randy Copeland, and some soldiers developed an attachment to them.

“It was just like having a comfortable chair to sit in,” he said.

But after decades of knocking down trees, barreling over ridges and hunting down soldiers training at Hohenfels, the M60s were getting too hard to maintain. Some replacement parts aren’t made anymore, Copeland said, and mechanics often had to work long into the night to keep the tanks operational.

“These things have definitely outlived their times,” said one 1-4 Infantry mechanic.

The replacement for the M60A3 is a Frankenstein’s creation of a battle tank, with the body of an M113 armored personnel carrier, the head of a Bradley fighting vehicle and “a piece of pipe welded on to look like a turret,” Copeland said.

Smaller and sleeker than the M60, the new tanks are generally considered to be an improvement, members of the 1-4’s Company D said last week.

The ride’s a bit bumpier than the battleship-like glide of the M60, but they’re faster than the old brutes, quicker up hills and more maneuverable in the woods, troops said.

However, at first glance the new tanks, called the MBT or main battle tank until they acquire another name, didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the Hohenfels tankers.

“When they were delivered, everybody was in shock at the look of them,” said Capt. Todd Jones, the battalion’s personnel officer and a former tanker. “You’re used to this big hulk … .”

But the MBTs have proved fast and reliable in the field, soldiers said. And compared to the M60, keeping them running is almost effort-free, mechanics said.

“Maintenance-wise, I’m kind of glad to see the 60 go,” said Staff Sgt. Gary Byles, a 1-4 tank commander.

But for Kurt Schindler, a maintenance foreman at Hohenfels, watching the end of the M60s is a melancholy experience.

For 25 years, it was Schindler’s job to keep the M60s running. Now he’s in charge of dismantling them, sawing off their turrets and hauling out their engines.

Standing amid a row of gutted and trackless M60s still bearing the affectionate nicknames members of Company D painted on their turrets — Drunk Tank, Dark Angel, Doomsday, Dominatrix — Schindler said it was a little upsetting to watch the passing of the old guard. A couple of them will be spared so they can be spruced up for use as display pieces, but the rest will go to the gunnery ranges of Grafenwöhr to be obliterated by artillery and new-fangled Abrams tanks.

“It is kind of a sad, sad feeling,” he said.


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