Naked City

Tanks a Million

M60 Patton Tank
M60 Patton Tank

The Patton tank was designed to fight the Soviets, not Branch Davidians.

While that may be obvious, a host of Patton tanks were part of an arsenal of military hardware that the FBI used against the Davidians during the 51-day siege that killed 84 people, including four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents. According to an exhibit introduced at the Davidian trial in Waco last Friday by the Davidians' attorney, Michael Caddell, the FBI had at its disposal five modified Patton tanks called CEVs (short for Combat Engineer Vehicle) 10 M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, one M88 tank retriever, and one M1A1 Abrams tank, the most sophisticated battle tank ever built. In all, the armored hardware used by the FBI at Mount Carmel weighed nearly 700 tons. Add another 300 tons or so of trucks, helicopters, gas masks, tents, generators, and a cargo plane, and the total amount of material used by federal police during the siege in Waco totaled about 1,000 tons.

The FBI's use of tanks and other military machinery at Mount Carmel has become a key part of the Davidians' case against the U.S. government. Last Friday, June 23, Caddell argued that the FBI was too quick to resort to weaponry to subdue David Koresh and his followers, and that it did not take any steps to address the possibility that the sect's sprawling building east of Waco could catch fire during the final assault. The essence of Caddell's case is this: The FBI was not vigilant in its efforts to ensure the safety of the women and children in the compound; therefore it is liable for damages and should pay the survivors for the wrongful deaths of those women and children, who did not take up arms against the ATF or the FBI.

Caddell contends that on April 19, 1993, the FBI used their modified Patton tanks to shoot highly flammable CS tear gas into the compound without taking precautions to prevent or fight a fire in case one broke out inside the wooden structure. According to testimony at the trial, the FBI fired about 400 tear gas grenades into the windows of the building. But by midmorning, FBI commanders began running out of tear gas and patience. Rather than continue with the tear gassing for 48 hours as the original battle plan suggested, FBI commanders Dick Rogers and Jeff Jamar ordered agents to destroy the rear section of the building using one of the Patton tanks. By one estimate, the tank drove back and forth 33 times inside the section of the building known as the gymnasium, reducing it to rubble. Shortly after the agents demolished the building, Mount Carmel was in flames. The causes of the fires are still unknown. But the use of the tanks remains one of the most controversial aspects of the siege.

Indeed, the Patton tank is a fearsome weapon. Weighing in excess of 120,000 pounds, it stands more than 10 feet tall and 12 feet wide. Designed to climb over vertical objects four feet high, the tank's front side steel armor is four and a half inches thick. It has a V-12 diesel engine that produces 750 horsepower. On the road, the behemoth gets about one mile per gallon; when operating off-road, or dismantling buildings, it burns two gallons to the mile. Fitted with a scraper blade and a massive boom, the CEV is designed to allow engineers to clear roadblocks and debris, fill craters and do other jobs while remaining protected by thick armor.

The use of the Patton tanks was just one facet of a massive armored invasion of the Branch Davidian site. During the siege, the distinction between police and military all but disappeared. In addition to entertaining and consulting with the elite anti-terrorism unit of the U.S. Army known as Delta Force, the FBI used psychological warfare techniques during the 51-day standoff. And dozens of other Army personnel from Fort Hood were in Waco during the siege to service and maintain the armored vehicles.

On Friday, Caddell spent more than an hour focusing on the videotaped testimony of Attorney General Janet Reno, former FBI director Williams Sessions, and other high-level FBI officials. Caddell asked each of them why they hadn't obtained armored fire-fighting equipment or remote-controlled fire equipment that might have extinguished the blaze. None had an answer.

After testimony ended on Friday, lead Dept. of Justice attorney Michael Bradford was dismissive of Caddell's discussion of fire-fighting equipment, saying there was no "mandatory order" regarding fire safety and that it was inappropriate for the FBI commanders to be "second-guessed by lawyers seven years later."

But seven years after the bloodiest and most controversial police action in American history, it is the image of Patton tanks smashing into Mount Carmel that resonates with many Waco watchers. And Caddell is clearly hoping that image will help him win.

An excellent Web site for more information on U.S. military hardware is maintained by the Federation of American Scientists at

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    City Council will decide whether to pay money for hotel venture; Pflugerville is considering building an airport; Jerry Weissberg resigns as CEO from; City Council to decide whether civilians or police should handle junk car enforcement.

    Naked City

    In a marathon Planning Commission meeting, three neighborhood plans get approved while one, the controversial East Cesar Chavez plan, gets postponed after a lengthy and heated discussion.
  • Naked City

    TDHCA board chair Michael E. Jones says he's found a way to keep indicted board member Florita Bell Griffin from participating in official business; the fate of millions of dollars in federal tax-credit housing subsidies depends on whether Griffin agrees to recuse herself.

    Naked City

    The Texas Funeral Services Commisison apparently has dismissed a fine against the funeral home that botched the embalming of slain TV anchorman Tres Hood.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Robert Bryce
If More CO<sub>2</sub> Is Bad ... Then What?
If More CO2 Is Bad ... Then What?
The need to reduce emissions collides head-on with the growing world demand for energy

Dec. 7, 2007

'I Am Sullied – No More'
'I Am Sullied – No More'
Col. Ted Westhusing chose death over dishonor in Iraq

April 27, 2007


Branch Davidians, Michael Caddell, Waco, David Koresh, Dick Rogers, Jeff Jamar, Delta Force, Janet Reno, William Sessions, Michael Bradford

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle