Contest Winners. Ever See a Tank Swim?



M551 Sheridan Ft. Knox, c. 1978

Me neither. But we tried. You’d think for being such an odd duck the thing could float. But not quite. More in a bit.


The contest was to guess the vehicle ID with the Penta-Posse a-top.

We have two winners: The Drill SGT and Fred Boness.

The Drill SGT sends this shot and writes:


M551 Sheridan

I think the shot is of an M551. If I need to get more specific, I think it is NOT an M551A1, but rather an M551 plain.

here is the best comparable photo

You likely took the photo at Aberdeen or Knox.

Do I get a bonus if I can tell you which track they are sitting on and where it is?

BTW: the overexposure on that shot is gonna make it tough for most folks

The Drill SGT

The Drill SGT got extra credit for guessing Knox. Contest Picture was from the Patton Museum.

Fred Boness is also a winner sending this shot and making points on style:


One of those awkward in between things, the M551 Sheridan. Too heavy to be a sportscar, too light to be a tank. Fred Boness

Awkward indeed. Designed to launch missiles and fire conventional rounds down the same tube; armored and airdroppable . Traverse land, lake and air!

The first picture at top of the page was of one of my 551’s about to go seaborne. The front floatation panel collapsed, the ship sank, nobody hurt. I don’t know how the driver got out. We then had an instructive vehicle recovery operation.

And I didn’t get fired. The swimming exercises were quietly discontinued.

Sometimes technology doesn’t solve everything. But the designers of the XM551 in the 60’s tried.

The missile was excellent for killing tanks, but was not armed/stable inside 800 meters. Ergo the gun — a monster 152 mm cannon. But the recoil would rock(et) the Sheridan back lifting the first two road wheels off the ground — knocking the bejeebers out of the missile electronics. So the missiles never worked anyway.

Younger, smarter MilBloggers from the 82d: do tell me if the problems were ever really solved.

The lesson would be from WWII armor: 20,000 simple-light Shermans beat 500 complex-heavy Tigers.

A final note on the contest — lest You, Gentle Reader think that I have lost all my female readers (both of them) — an interesting entry was from Jane Lathem who writes:

I think it is an army tank!

A good simple answer to what was complicated mission creep.


Thank you (foot)notes:

Salute to Mudville Gazette with Open Post, and while there see Eagle Speak — has more big guns at Heavy Cruiser. has sense of humor.

Basil’e Blog has trackbacks.

Outside The Beltway has Traffic Jam.

California Conservative has Tuesday Open Trackbacks.


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9 Responses

  1. Jane Lathem says:

    Well, thanks for mentioning my name. At least I guessed correctly. I didn’t elaborate and I did not know exactly what KIND of tank but I did know it was a tank!

  2. The Drill SGT says:


    Good try. However tank geeks would take issue with that label. They would call it an armored recon vehicle. Note that Jack, sensitive to professional ridicule on the topic called it a track which it self-evidently was. Twas also armored, barely. What purists would not call it was a tank, though it had its most enduring mission as the mainstay of the “Light Tank” BN of the 82nd AB Div.

    Here’s a testimonial from Armor Magazine:

    LTC John Barker, U.S. Army, former XO of 3rd/73rd Armor says:

    “The Sheridan with its 152mm main gun was the near-perfect light infantry support vehicle. It could swim. It had thermal sights. It had long-range armor destruction capability equal to or greater than a Hellfire missile (check your PH/PK classified data!) The Shillelagh with its 152mm HEAT round could blow a hole in a reinforced concrete wall large enough for infantry soldiers to walk through side by side. An infantry leader could use the external phone, it boasted a flechette’ round that could blast 17,000 one-inch nails into enemy infantry as close support, and oh by the way, you could parachute it into combat for those nasty ‘forced entry’ missions typically laid at the feet of the Paratroopers of the “Devils in Baggy Pants”, “Panthers” and “Falcons” of the 82d…..”


    I’ll defend the Sheridan a bit. Granted it couldn’t swim except on a very good day. It was very fast, light on its feet with good agility and low ground pressure. In its day it was a good recon vehicle and for the 82nd, provided much needed improvement over the next best options for them which were the LAW, 106MM RR or 105 Arty fired over open sights. Given the choice of those 4 options on a HOT LZ, the Sheridan looks like the best tank killer by an order of magnitude to me. I think you’d chose the M551 as well given those options.

    Recon units learned how to use the tracks that had working missiles in overwatch and bound the gun tracks forward.

  3. Fred says:

    I feel humbled by Jane Lathem’s response. I have long known that a simple answer, even if not exactly correct, can be more useful than an exact answer that takes too long to explain. Let’s call that Occam’s Hammer.

  4. Jack Yoest says:

    Fred, thanks for your insite on “The (Occam) Hammer.” Even Tom DeLay would like that.

    Let’s call it Fred’s razor.



  5. Jack Yoest says:

    Drill SGT,

    You were right about the “missile” tracks on overwatch. Our unit had also divided the Sheridans between gun and missile — not both down the same launcher. Not quite what planners envisions. Unanticipated consequence.

    I would imagine your experience in A2’s might be different?

    And I would agree on the tank-killer outside 800 meters — unless they fixed that also.

    Didn’t the ‘Fleshettes’ get “outlawed.” Something about being unfair? Goodness, what a great antipersonnel option.

    Anyway, I think you and the Army got it right on the High Agility/High Mobility options seen in the Stryker.



  6. The Drill SGT says:

    On your comment about Tank Killing beyond 800 meters, I assume that is a reference to missles rather than gun. I’d disagree. Considering the options (1965-75: pre-TOW here), the Sheridan was a hell of a lot better at ALL ranges than waiting in a fox hole with a LAW or standing next to a 105 HOW looking at 10 approaching T62s

  7. Jeff Cope says:

    I was in a Sheridan unit in Germany from July 1972 till January 1975, C Troop, 3rd Squadron, 12th Armored Cavalry, in Budingen.

    As related above, the recoil from the 152mm was so great that the missile electronics rarely worked, and as the missiles themselves were so expensive, nobody ever got to shoot them anyway.

    Because of the recoil, we were advised not to fire off either side, ie, 90 degrees off center line. Being low velocity, the gun was not very accurate, and it also had the annoying habit of the opserator (sp?) seal sticking to the face of the breech block when opened—if you didn’t check it and loaded another round, when you closed the breech it sliced off the back of the round, which was caseless, and you had powder everywhere! Not a good thing, and guaranteed to piss off the TC!

    They could be air dropped, but nothing worked afterwords. I swam one once in Fort Knox–hairy, but fun!

    To sum up, it was a typical “made by committee” design–too much packed into one package. In my opinion it would have been much better if they had just mounted the 76mm from the M-41 in it and called it good. I mean, for crying out loud, it was a RECON vehicle, not a battle tank!

    Thanks. Jeff.

  8. 11echo says:

    I was “accidentally” assigned to serve on the Sheridan. A trp. 3/12 CAV 8/73. I had just finished armor training at Knox, and was sent to additional Redeye missile training, for which you get an “R6” MOS attachment …Sheridan trained was “R8” …you could almost see it coming. So went OJT on Plt.Sgt. track A-15 …oldest in Sqd. Basically a piece of cr*p! …Except the automotive system! could do 50 mph with no problems. Your right about the weapon system, conventional round kicked the sh*t out of the electronics, so missile system didn’t work half the time. Sights for the 152mm weren’t all the great either! Ammo loading times were painful too! 3 times what it took for a M60 with a 105mm.

    But that convental caseless round was a real danger to the crew! Heard of track the blew up killing all but the TC at Graf. REAL glad I was transferred to a Redeye section!!! …Mark(11echo)

  9. BUDDY W WHEELER says:

    i help train first m551 tank crews at fort know 1967

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