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British Armoured Corps Memoirs

Discussion in 'WWII Books & Publications' started by larso, Feb 8, 2014.

  1. larso

    larso Member

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    I posted this list last year but I've found a few more since. The plan with this thread is to post reviews of the ones I'm able to read. I've itemised, as best I can, units served with and campaigns participated in. I hope it helps others find books in their interest areas.



    Tank

    Actung! Minen! The making of a Flail tank Troop Commander by Ian C Hammerton (22nd Dragoons: Sword Beach)

    Alamein to Zem Zem by Keith Douglas (Africa) Posthumous

    A Tankie’s Travels by Jock Watt (3RTR: France, Greece, Africa/Alamain, Italy)

    Armoured Guardsman by Robert Boscawen (1st Armd Bn Colstrean Gds: Normandy – Germany)

    Armoured Odyssey by Stuart Hamilton (8RTR: Africa, Italy)

    Better than Riches by Frederick Pile (6RTR, 1RTR N/Europe)

    Brazen Chariots by Bob Crisp (3RTR: Africa)

    By Tank: D to VE Day by Ken Tout (1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, 33rd Armd Bde: France 44)

    By Tank into Normandy by Stuart Hills (Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, 8th Armd Bde: N/Europe)

    D-Day to Victory by Trevor Greenwood (9RTR: Normandy – Germany) Diary

    In at the Finish by J. G. Smith (141st RAC)

    From Horses to Chieftans 1935-59 by Richard Napier (8th Hussars: Africa, D-day, N/Europe)

    Flame Thrower by Andrew Wilson (141st RAC” Normandy, Holland, Germany)

    Leakey’s Luck by Rea Leakey (1st, 5th, 7th, 44th RTR: Africa, N/Europe)

    Mailed Fist by John Foley (107th RAC, 34th Armd Bde: Normandy – Germany)

    Sixty-four days of a Normandy Summer by Keith Jones (2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry, 11th Armd Div: Normandy)

    Tank Commander by Bill Close (3RTR: France, Greece, Africa, N/Europe)

    Tanks across the desert by Jake Wardrop (5RTR: Africa) Diary. Postumous

    Tank Twins by Stephen Dyson (107th RAC, 34th Armd Bde: Normandy – Germany)

    The Gods were Neutral by Bob Crisp (3RTR: Greeece)

    To War with the Bays by Jack Merewood (1st Queens Dragoon Gds: Africa, Italy?)

    Troop Leader by Bill Bellamy (8th Hussars, 7th Armd Div: N/Europe)



    Recon

    A Soldier Remembers by Ronald A. Tee (56th Rec, 78th Div: Tunisia, Sicily, Italy/Mt Cassino)

    For the Duration by Gordon Nisbett (1st Rec: Africa, Italy, Anzio)
     
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  2. larso

    larso Member

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    ‘Armoured Guardsman’ by Robert Boscawen

    Stackpole Books, 2009. Paperback, 232 pages. Originally published 2001.

    Boscawen served as a tank troop leader in Guards Armoured division in Normandy and beyond. He had significant family connections with the Coldstream Guards and he commanded Sherman tanks with the 1st Armoured Battalion of that regiment in 5th Guards Armoured Brigade. This is a diary but it is a very detailed one and reads a lot like a standard memoir.

    Boscowen’s first major action is Goodwood. It was fascinating to read of the pre-battle optimism and the confidence in Montgomery’s plan. There were great expectations with regard to Allied artillery and air-power and the resultant diminishment of the German defences. The author was therefore confounded as he entered the battle to see “the horizon… covered with burning Shermans”, counting nearly 20 in one field alone, though he also sees many dead and dazed Germans. The overall confusion, dust and noise of armoured battle is made very clear. He is very aware too of German Panther and Tiger tank superiority and he notes that even the Sherman’s speed was poor. His unit suffers many casualties, including some very dear friends. The diary format emphasizes the awfulness of this.

    Following Normandy and the subsequent breakthrough, the author receives leave, is LOB (left out of battle) and spends time in reserve, so he misses some key actions, including Market Garden. He is though in action at ‘The Island’ and elsewhere and at one point writes of nine Irish Guards tanks being knocked out by one extremely well camouflaged MkIV. His final battle is in April, where he is wounded.

    One thing that was remarkable to me, having read so many accounts by US infantry, is the significant amount of time that Boscowen gets out of the line. Food is also quite decent and supplies are generally obtainable. Perhaps these are the perks of being in an armoured formation? He is even able to indulge himself in going pheasant and partridge hunting! It is in that sense a very British memoir. Boscowen has access to privileges (he dined on The Rodney with an admiral shortly after arriving in France!) and it reveals a lot about being a member of the upper class (educated at Eton, Cambridge and Sandhurst). Boscowen also epitomises the best of his class though. He continually seeks combat in a role that is exceedingly dangerous and ultimately pays a high price for his bravery.

    This is quite an interesting book, though the combat revealed is not always very detailed. Indeed, aside from actions around Caen, other aspects of his service tend to dominate. However it does make clear the cost of battle, the road is seemingly marked with destroyed Shermans. It is a diary, so much of what is written is of specific interest only to the author but it does give a fascinating insight into the men of his time and class. Recommended. 3 stars
     
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  3. Drew5233

    Drew5233 Member

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  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 Member

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    A few to add to your list:

    One Young Soldier by Tim Bishop

    Yeoman Soldier Prussian Farmer by Richard Harvey

    Soldier On by Col. Sir Mike Ansell
     
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  5. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member Patron  

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    Good book reviews are always welcome!
     
  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 Member

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    Ps Let me know if you come across any that have a significant amount of pages devoted to the France and Flanders campaign.
     
  7. larso

    larso Member

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    Thanks for that Drew. I sent an email with a few details for you.

    Here's another of my reviews. I'm tidying my Amazon ones up and will post them here as I get through them. If anyone thinks I'm too positive or too critical please feel free to add your thoughts. Hopefully this thread will become a good resource for those researching the topic.

    'By Tank into Normandy' by Stuart Hills

    Published by Cassell, 2002. 255 pages including index.

    This is an excellent memoir indeed. The author served with the Nottinghamshire Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, a tank regt with the 8th Armoured Bde, from D-day to VE Day.

    He spends a bit of time on his youth, in particular his school days. I found this to be fascinating as it gave a very clear picture of what life was like for many English boys in the inter-war years. He writes of cricket and football, his stays with various guardians (his parents were Hong Kong residents and his recollections regarding life there are also very interesting) and watching the Battle of Britain dogfights. Then at the completion of school, he enlists and shortly thereafter finds himself as a 19 year troop leader of Sherman DD tanks.

    As such he participates in the D Day landings. Following this is the long and dangerous fighting around Caen and through the bocage country. He writes briefly of being up against Panzer Lehr and 12 SS Panzer among others and discusses, again briefly, the merits of each sides tanks. One particular day, a Tiger tries to do a 'Wittmann' on his column. All the trapped Shermans furiously fired smoke at the Tiger to put off its aim until an attack by a section of Typhoons, left it on its side and minus its turret. An interesting story given some peoples doubts about the success of such air attacks at Mortain and in Falaise.

    The author is continually at the forefront of the fighting, his worse days coming in Belgium. Indeed, the number of casualties he recounts makes for very sobering reading. The types of things that can happen to human bodies in tank fighting is also made clear. So too is the tension of being the leading tank, of the leading troop, of the leading Sqn, of the leading Regt of a whole Corp's advance!! He gets through mostly unscathed but the same cannot be said for many of his colleagues.

    This is a very well written book indeed. The writing is clear and polished, yet matter of fact. It seems typically English in its detail, honestly informative but without becoming overwrought. I felt it to be a suitable testimony for many men of that generation. It also speaks volumes about the England of the day. Highly recommended - 4 ¼
    stars

    Stuart Hills died in 2004.
     
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  8. LG'96

    LG'96 New Member

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    Most of these seem out of print or old.
     
  9. Drew5233

    Drew5233 Member

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    Abebooks.com is your friend ;)
     
  10. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=12pt]'Most of these seem out of print or old.' - Yep! I've still managed to get most of them though and generally for a good price ($10 - 20), even allowing for shipping to Australia. Most appear to have been published in the 90s and 00s but Bill Close's is a recent release.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=12pt]Troop Leader’ by Bill Bellamy

    Subtitled : A Tank Commander’s Story
    Sutton Publishing, 2007. Paperback 243 pages.

    Bellamy served with the 8th Kings Royal Irish Hussars operating Cromwell tanks as the armoured recon regt of the 7th Armoured Division. He was a very enthusiastic youth who was worried the war would be over before he could participate. He joined his unit in Tunisia but it was promptly brought back for Overlord. Though he commenced the Normandy campaign as an officer in the support squadron, the casualties suffered saw him quickly gain command of a tank troop and he serves in this role pretty much until VE-Day.

    The stand out feature of this book is its fast pace. It is packed with incident. The author was only 20 and he has conveyed wonderfully the sense of adventure that he felt – which helped to offset the appalling violence that happened around him. Bellamy’s role was scouting and he has provided some very detailed accounts of patrolling. There is action against SP and anti-tank guns and some against other tanks. He reveals the reasons for his decisions and the close calls but also the reality of operating tanks. They were hard work at times. They were also heavily reliant on supplies and Bellamy’s unit literally runs out of petrol after a very fast drive following the break-out.

    Due to his role as troop commander he mostly directs his men to do the actual shooting. Yet though he doesn’t write specifically of killing, he does reveal that he pressed the trigger almost apologetically. Unless it involved the SS – he thought they were beasts. On this, Bellamy twice writes of French civilians being murdered or having their hands cut off for being seen to help or welcome men of his unit. He is also in action against German Para’s who he thought were very tough fighters, but he notes that even the ‘stomach’ battalions fought well. Finally he serves in Berlin and has some interesting and some unpleasant encounters with the Russians.

    The amazing thing is he was so young, yet he was handed enormous responsibility. There were things he got wrong – like yelling at his superior officers. He also got a bit ‘bomb-happy’ towards the end and has a few fortunate escapes. It is very much an account of combat and Bellamy sees some terrible things but it is a rollicking read at times!
    Highly recommended. 4 ¼ stars.

    Some interesting obituaries for Bellamy are here –[/SIZE]

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obitu ... 82676.html

    http://amolrajan.independentminds.livej ... /9709.html
     
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  11. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr Patron  

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    To be fair, if the average veteran were 20 in 1944 they'd be 90 today. As others have said, the advent of the internet has made acquiring such books far, far easier......
     
  12. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=12pt]‘By Tank: D to VE Days ‘ Ken Tout

    Robert Hale, London, 2007. Hardcover 240 pages.

    Tout served as a gunner on a Sherman with 1st Northampton Yeomanry, of the 33rd Armoured Bde. This unit was independent of the armoured divisions, with the tank battalions being used to give support to various infantry divisions – in Tout’s case, primarily 51st Highland. The book covers Tout’s actions in Normandy and up to October when he is evacuated. In the remaining third of the book Tout relates the events experienced by his comrades through to the end. Some of this includes operating Buffaloes in a major river crossing.

    Tout gives nothing on his background or training, landing on the beach on page 2 (June 15th). It is several weeks before he sees action but when it comes it is delivered in incredible detail. Tout has used a diary format to keep things brisk, even specifying particular times of the day to convey with great clarity how time in battle was experienced. And it is quite vivid. Tout uses remarkably visual language to express the reality of operating a tank in combat. He is a gunner (and at times a tank commander too) and a variety of targets cross his sights and he writes bluntly about what he does to them. There is also a lot of violence coming back at him and he vividly describes the chill that went through his veins whenever they encountered a break in a hedge that could’ve only been made by a Tiger. The lack of vision from a tank often made every shadow seem filled with threat. Often they could hear and see neighbouring tanks brewing up around them, with little idea of how to avoid the same fate themselves. It was informative to read it didn’t always go against them. In one action they knock-out almost 20 German tanks, including perhaps 5 Tigers (for a time Tout believed they had accounted for Wittman in this clash but this claim is not repeated here). In another, an attack by SS infantry is shreded and then the corn fields the SS are caught in are set ablaze. Tout spells things out. On several occasions he describes clearly the horrendous injuries suffered from AP shell strikes and fires. Men who he regarded with great affection and even awe die horrible deaths. The impact of combat is very sobering indeed.

    A strength of this account is the way Tout explains operating tanks, from their seemingly enormous height to toileting inside them. He describes the limited room and the resultant problems experienced by the crew. He includes quite a bit of the inter-crew banter and I think conveys the sense of operating, fighting and fear of dying in them better than anyone else I have read.

    This book combines and condenses material from Tout’s earlier books, ‘Tank!’, ‘Tanks Advance!’ and ‘To Hell with Tanks’ (published in 1985, 1987 and 1992 respectively). I’m not sure what format those earlier books took but this edition is in the form of a diary – but an incredibly detailed one, replete with conversations. Clearly Tout couldn’t have been taking exhaustive notes while looking through his gunner sight for Tigers, so they are obviously reconstructed. I imagine the diary format has been chosen to allow emphasis to be given to the way time was experienced. I found this made for exciting, like you’re there yourself, reading. In the later passages, following his evacuation, Tout recounts the main experiences of his comrades and there was quite a lot that was interesting and of course, sometimes harrowing.

    As a diary this is a slightly different memoir to the others. It conveys a very immediate sense of being in armoured warfare and although it’s short of greater context, it delivers a very clear picture of what an ordinary man experienced.

    Highly recommended - 4 ½ stars.[/SIZE]
     
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  13. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=12pt]Sixty-four Days of a Normandy Summer by Keith Jones[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=12pt]Robert Hale Lts, 1990. Hardcover, 192 pages[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=12pt]This is the author’s account of his participation in the Battle of Normandy, as a member of 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry, the armoured reconnaissance regiment of the 11th Armored division. He is initially the regimental LO (Laison Officer, responsible for organizing boundaries and other admin with neighbouring units) using a Humber armoured car but following casualties is assigned to command Cromwell tanks in a couple of different roles.

    The variety of experiences Jones had reveal some of the complexities of mechanized fighting. Aside from normal gun tanks there are specialized vehicles and a great number of support roles. Initially he commands the rear-line tank and is responsible for communication between his squadron and regiment. Later he commands the squadron 95mm support tank, which comes with other duties as well. This all spells out that battle was not all charging the enemy, many roles were required for a regiment to operate effectively.

    As for the vehicles themselves, the author spends quite a bit of time revealing the practicalities of operating the various types, particularly the tanks. He does a good job of describing the limited space and what it meant to be in tank for hours on end. A particularly fascinating element was how crew members worked and fought together.

    While the author is in a combat regiment, his own exposure to battle was surprisingly limited. As LO he was not required to participate in combat and even when he was in the sabre squadrons, he often seemed to be in reserve during the big battles, or he missed them for some other reason. The author was certainly in harm’s way. He has several extremely close shaves and was exposed to his share of artillery fire but I was slightly frustrated that he was so close to some of the most famous battles of this campaign (Hill 112, Goodwood, Mortain) without actually fighting in them. I am in no way being critical of the man for this. In fact, given the casualties his unit incurred, these circumstances contributed greatly to his even being alive to write the book at all. Indeed, the book concludes with the disbandment of the regiment due to casualties. (Jones is then posted to 7th Armoured division but does not write on his subsequent experiences.)

    These things being said, this is still a very interesting read. There is excellent minor detail and the insights provided into the workings of an armoured unit were fascinating to me. There is also a real flavour of the times too. The author has also added some occasional big picture material that pertained to him. In addition he is careful to specify the formations he supported and opposed. So there is some useful context incorporated. All up it is an engaging book, but it does have less immediate combat than in the other tanker memoirs above. I’d recommend this book to someone who has a specific interest in the practical elements of armoured operations.
    [/SIZE]
    [SIZE=12pt] 3 stars[/SIZE]
     
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  14. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=12pt]Flame Thrower by Andrew Wilson

    Bantam Books, 1984. Paperback, 189 pages.

    Wilson first published his account in 1956. In this 1984 edition he writes an interesting reflection, where he reveals he is still reconciling the impact the war had. Accordingly, he chose to repeat his original decision to write in the Third person. This allowed him to have the necessary distance to be able to write his story at all. Generally I would not be keen on such a device but Wilson’s story is still quite powerful and in many passages, it reads as if it was First person anyway. Given he also uses the actual names of many comrades, I felt that I was getting as complete an account of his experiences as possible.

    Though one of many tanker memoirs, Wilson’s story stands out as he was a troop leader of Britain’s famous flame-throwing Churchill tanks, the Crocodile. Indeed, his unit, 141st Royal Armoured (one of several tank regiments converted from infantry battalions, in this case 7th Bn, The Buffs (3rd Foot)), is the only one operating this equipment in the whole army and as such its sub units are spread quite wide.

    The particular role assigned to the Crocodiles was to clear enemy fortifications using the stream of fire they were capable of firing. Wilson explains well the capabilities of this weapon and I was surprised by the variety of circumstances it proved useful – devastatingly so. For a while it is a strange existence. He ‘flames’ a target and then lets the infantry take over. It is almost sterile and it is only in Holland that he finally goes to see what his ‘work’ has done. He never does it again.

    Wilson first sees combat in Normandy, after spending a short time in ‘Reserve’ Sqn. Though well supported by other arms (the Crocodiles were very valuable!), his unit sees considerable casualties. These included execution upon capture (though the one instance this is based on is perhaps not as clear cut as related here). Wilson has a knack for conveying something distinctive about a man, and his death through accident, battle or murder hits that little bit harder. There are then a variety of operations in Holland and following his recovery from a wound, into Germany.

    While quite worried he will miss out on the fight (he is after all not yet 20), the author has at times an almost cynical tone. He is aware he is living in difficult times but is amazed at some of the things he encounters. These include confronting experiences in training and encountering some archaic attitudes in his unit. They do though receive a new battle tested commander who prepares them suitably for modern warfare. Despite researching this genre at some length, I only recently learned of this memoir. I did find though that he has been quoted by the likes of Hastings and Ellis. The grim sit-rep he receives when assigned to the front line is related in the former’s ‘Overlord’ for instance.

    This is a very good account (as it seems are all memoirs by British officers) of a very specialized form of armoured warfare. Indeed, Wilson’s war is virtually defined by his weapon. He faces many of the risks of other tankers, if not quite to the same degree and inflicts a substantial dose of destruction on the enemy, albeit often removed from the consequences. Overall though, it is very much an account of battle and from a unique perspective. Highly recommended : 4 ¼ stars.[/SIZE]
     
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  15. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=12pt]Tank Twins: East End Brothers in Arms by Stephen W. Dyson[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=12pt]Pen & Sword Books, 1997. Hardcover, 208 pages.[/SIZE]

    [SIZE=12pt]This WW2 memoir is slightly unusual in that it covers the service of the author, as well as that of his twin brother. They served together in 107th Royal Armd Corps (The Kings Own), operating Churchill tanks as part of 34th Armoured Brigade, fighting from Normandy to Germany. The account is written by Stephen Dyson with a clear focus on his personal experiences but he also includes news of his brother's activities. This is just as well as Stephen's story is the more compelling of the two. He is a `loader' and sees front line action from the start, while his brother is a `reserve' and has a less lucky run than his brother.

    The twins were conscripted and started their war in the infantry but were able to transfer together to the armoured corps. This was resisted on the grounds that they might more likely both be casualties but they felt they could look after each other. Originally the 151st RAC, their unit is re- designated the 107th and enters Normandy in this guise. Stephen, is with `B' Sqn and first sees action in mid July on Hill 112.

    The author's perspective as a loader of the tanks main armament means he doesn't always see a lot of what is going on. He does get a sobering pre-battle look at a knocked out Tiger and freely admits that when he first rolled into action, he prayed! They had `88' phobia and were very conscious of their vulnerability. Following the break-out from Normandy the regiment is heavily engaged while crossing the Orne River. There is then a lengthy account of the long drive through Holland, the attack through the Siegfried Line and on into Germany. This later fighting meant that most actions were small scale ones. A German SPG or two would ambush them and then try and get away. Many engagements were in support of infantry attacking fixed positions. There were also many mines. It is a good insight into the relentless nature of the fighting. Always advancing but with a steady stream of casualties.

    Stephen Dyson has quite a story to tell. He has a few close shaves and sees some remarkable things, however his own contribution to the fighting does not involve personally firing on the enemy. This does not mean that this is not a grim account of combat though. He spells out what running over dead bodies with tank tracks means for instance. As one of the very few memoirs by a loader, this book offers a fairly interesting perspective. He also writes more than most on the broader tactical situation, describing, where relevant, the actions of neighbouring units. Dyson is a lively, earthy man who commendably writes openly of what it was like to be a young man in this time. There are girls and pranks and thankfully a sense of fun at times. Being a musician also helps lighten the tone at times. The author is very proud of his East End origins and gives some nice touches of what living there was like. A solid read.
    Recommended 3 ½ stars
    [/SIZE]
     
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  16. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=12pt]Mailed Fist by John Foley

    Granada, 1982. Paperback, 172 pages.

    John Foley was a regular soldier from 1936. Mid war he was reassigned from some sort of a quarter-master role into a tank troop officer and as such fought in Normandy, the drive through France and into Germany. He served with the independent 34th Tank Brigade and though he never specifically states it, his regiment was the 107th Royal Armoured (and with Tank Twins above, is one of the very few units to boast two memoirs). They operated Churchill tanks in support of a variety of infantry divisions, though it was assigned to the 79th Armoured Division in early 1945.

    Foley is assigned to command 5 Troop of A Squadron and his first activities are in training for the invasion of France. It is fascinating to see how their methods changed when an experienced commander takes over. Indeed, this allows a very interesting comparison with some of the other senior regimental officers that Foley encountered early on. Armies can be very peculiar things and the people in them just as strange. Thankfully the unit is combat ready when they arrive at Normandy shortly after D-day.

    Initially Foley’s unit is in reserve and when they do enter combat they are not committed to any of the infamous big battles. It is therefore an account of infantry support, with the Germans rarely seen. With the breakout though, operations become unpredictable, with the establishing of a bridgehead over the Orne attracting a heavy counterattack by 12 SS Panzer Division. It is here that Foley’s Churchill comes face to face with a Tiger with predictable results. This section is the most interesting of the book and reveals the confusion and horror of battle. Later episodes follow a pattern of clearing villages and pushing forward against ambushes by SPGs. It is a good account of what the majority of armoured crews experienced for the last months of the war.

    Aside from battle, there is a lot on the operations of the Churchill tanks, including some remarkable material on negotiating the ice covered roads in the Ardennes. There is also a lot on the camaraderie of a tank troop, the costs of battle, the occasional comic relief and Foley’s role as an officer, managing everyone through it all. Particularly enjoyable are the stories of the liberation.

    Foley’s memoir was first published in 1957 and was popular enough to be reprinted several times since, including after the author’s death in the 1970s. The author writes fluently (he is frequently quoted in history books) and has a wry sense of humour which helps when he is telling stories where he made a mess of things. It does cover combat and sad losses occur but the author’s tone is matter-of-fact, almost understated. This is particularly so where the author recounts his personal very close calls with death. It is very British in that regard I think. All up, it is a good read. It gives a lot of detail regarding training and the typical experiences of men operating tanks.

    Recommended - 4 stars
    [/SIZE]
     
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  17. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member Patron  

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    "88" phobia (or Tiger fear) was just as prevalent it seems in tanks other than Sherman's. Never seem to know it from popular media.
     
  18. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=12pt]Armoured Odyssey by Stuart Hamilton MC

    Tom Donovan publishing, London, 1995. Hardcover 161 pages.

    Hamilton served with 8th RTR in the Western Desert in 1941-42, Palestine and Syria 1943-44 and Italy in 1944-45. He was a troop commander operating Valentine tanks in Africa but had graduated to Squadron leader and Sherman tanks for Italy.

    The author’s role in the desert was primarily infantry support. Unfortunately the Valentine’s main weapon was the 2 Pounder which was inadequate for confrontations with German tanks. It was very interesting to read how the crews managed to make do though. Manoeuvre, a high rate of fire and guts went a long way – until the overwhelming odds caught up with you at least. One of the most remarkable aspects of Hamilton’s account is the relentless nature of the desert campaign. Aside from the intense battles, the travel was exhausting and the desert itself imposed serious difficulties. Hamilton writes in exasperation of units being continually spilt up and sent racing all over the desert. As such they were quickly reduced to ‘penny-packets’ and had great difficulty achieving battlefield success. In combat, Hamilton experiences air-attack and finds armoured warfare to be very harsh. Death meant gore and burns were a constant fear. Actions could erupt out of nowhere and the Italians were not always push-overs. The author gets a partial spell for Alamein but he otherwise seems to be in every other fight there was.

    Italy is a less fluid campaign. There are different challenges with the terrain, ridges, cliffs, mud and it is a long hard slog. The Germans are impressive fighters and always maintain their determination and deadliness. There are also many casualties, including many accidental ones and command failures that exacerbate all the other problems. This is one of the very few accounts by a tanker about this campaign.

    As with it seems all war memoirs written by British officers, this is a very well written book. The author writes in great detail on the actions he fought in, including on killing, his friends, his men and the tragedies that occurred to them. The author was very, very lucky to survive to the end. In many ways, fighting in the desert and Italy was different to the battles of Normandy and beyond but even though there are excellent accounts from those, I think this book has the edge in terms of the overall experience of being a British tanker in WW2. Highly recommended 4 ½ stars
    [/SIZE]
     
  19. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=12pt]Brazen Chariots by Robert Crisp

    Bantam, 1978 (first published 1959), paperback, 233 pages.

    Crisp, a South African, served with 3rd Battalion RTR in Greece, the desert and briefly in Normandy. This book covers just four weeks of his experiences in the Crusader battles in late 1941. (He writes of his Greek experiences in ‘The Gods were Neutral’ but doesn’t appear to have written at all of his time in Normandy). It must be said though, that these four weeks – for those who didn’t become casualties, were extremely intense and Crisp is a good enough writer to convey it all in a very powerful fashion.

    The most astonishing thing is the incredible tempo of the operations. Crisp’s brigade is shuttled all over the place and his regiment and often, just his understrength squadron, seem to be continually operating in isolation against well concentrated Axis forces. Also, long, hot drives, and nights spent prepping the tanks for the next day’s actions, meant that the men were in a constant state of exhaustion.

    The Crusader battles were meant to break Rommel’s siege of Tobruk and ultimately they achieved this but there were many twists in the proceedings which led to swirling advances across the desert, frequently interrupted by bitter combat. Crisp was a troop commander of Honey (Stuart) tanks, a weapon that was heavily outgunned by the German panzers. Crisp goes into great detail about the efforts he went to, to compensate for the imbalances. Dash was often his only option and his account is full of very dramatic armour battles. The deadliness of which he spells out, particularly so during his own traumatic journey as a casualty at the conclusion of his account.

    The list memoirs by British tank men is above and though it is hard to compare desert accounts with those of Normandy and beyond, this is certainly the most action packed of all of them. Crisp was a post-war journalist and his writing is vivid and detailed. He conveys very well the fear and gore of unrelenting armoured warfare, as well as the absolute ignorance the actual fighting men were left in of what was happening. There are deadly mistakes and amazing incompetence too. The author comes across as very ‘British’ in terms of his understated, almost humble tone. This is particularly intriguing when considered with the way he actually lived his life. Besides being a test cricketer and some amazing developments in his military career, he was a rake who would make rock-stars blush!
    [/SIZE][SIZE=12pt]This aside, his account of desert warfare is compelling. 4.75 stars[/SIZE]
     
  20. larso

    larso Member

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    [SIZE=12pt]For the Duration by Gordon Nisbett

    Subtitled : The Journal of a Conscript 1941-46
    Pentland Press, 1996. Hardcover, 175 pages.

    Nisbett was quite surprised when the army called him up. He was bespeckeled and short but the army deemed him suitable for combat duties and he duly fought in Tunisia and Italy. While Nisbett served with a Recon regiment he found that his job was pretty much the same as a standard infantryman.

    Nisbett writes a bit more on training than most British memoirists. It was jarringly cold and dangerous. It seemed more spartan than that experienced by US troops but also more practical, with less of the endless drill. Nisbett is then assigned to 1st Recon Regt (of 1st Infantry Division) and more training before they are all shipped overseas for action in Tunisia. The Recon regts were war-time creations, raised to allow the historic cavalry regiments to convert to tanks. They were equipped with armoured cars and Bren carriers which were markedly inferior to German weapons. This is sheeted home in Tunisia where the regiment has some grim days. Nisbett conveys well the tragedy of this, especially as the land fought over was of so little actual importance to anyone.

    While there are some notable encounters early, the highlight of NIsbett’s account is his lengthy stint at Anzio. Despite the high hopes for a drive to Rome, the Allies are contained and forced to endure trench warfare for months. Nisbett’s unit largely for-goes its recon duties and serves in the frontline next to the infantry. There are many night patrols and endless shelling. There are German attacks and Nisbett is fortunate to miss the destruction of his troop.

    Following Anzio, the division slogs its way up Italy. There is a little more recon action but due to the terrain it is mostly done on foot. The mountain winter is very difficult. The action is mostly in the form of patrols and setting ambushes, though the Germans are not encountered too often. When the division is finally given a break it is assigned to Palestine, which was welcome in many ways. Nisbett loves the Biblical history and is almost a pilgrim. This changes for the worse with the end of the war and the discontent that breaks out in the Holy Land. It also signals the end of the regiment and Nisbett returns a vastly different person to an England he doesn’t recognize.

    Nisbett is a likeable fellow and his writing is quite engaging. Though he is in the front line continually and sees lots of violence it is not a ‘blood-n-guts’ account. Friends are killed but Nisbett’s personal contribution to returning fire is subdued. Nominally a radio man, he is assigned a variety of weapons (Bren, Piat) but he doesn’t write of firing them to any real degree. Still, it is a far ranging account of an ordinary man at war. It is also one of only two accounts I am aware of by a member of a standard recon regt (though there are a couple by men who served in tank recon regts), so it has some different elements to other wartime memoirs. All up an enjoyable and informative account. 3 ½ stars
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