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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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    Last of my back-catalogue

    A Tankie’s Travels by Jock Watt

    Woodfield Publishing, 2006. Paperback, 205 pages.

    Jock grew up in a small Scottish beach-side town. He left home to pursue his interest in mechanics and on his 18th Birthday in 1937 joined the 3rd Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment. When war came he served with his regiment at the disasters in Calais in 1940 and Greece in 1941, before taking part in the see-sawing African battles against Rommel.

    Watt’s entry into the army was fascinating. There is quite a bit on the ways of the professional army, the training and the relationships between ranks. By the time war came he had progressed to corporal and the CO’s driver. Their shift to France came only after the German breakthrough and the regiment’s deployment is quite confused. Watt doesn’t see much apart from Calais and German bombers. He is very lucky to get a ship away.

    Following the rebuilding of the unit, they are sent to Africa. They are then part of the token force sent to Greece. The disorganization is colossal. Their new and familiar A13 Cruisers are exchanged for worn out A10s and the Greek roads and conditions are diabolical. Once the Germans attack it is pretty much one long retreat. Incredibly, the tank replacement parts they are issued are all for their former A13s and more tanks are lost to breakdown than enemy action. Watt finds himself virtually alone conducting a rear-guard. He sees plenty of action. At one point he has Bob Crisp (of ‘Brazen Chariots’ and ‘The God’s were Neutral’ his own account of the Greek campaign) alongside and it is interesting to read his brief, mixed, appraisal of him. This is a very underreported campaign and there is much that is informative. Watt is particularly impressed with the MPs who stolidly kept their posts, giving directions and trying to keep order in the chaos. Watt is then even luckier than previously in getting to Crete, and then Egypt by sea. It is an extraordinary adventure by itself.

    In Egypt the regiment rebuilds for the second time. This time Watt is commanding a Stuart tank and he writes quite a bit on operating these machines. They are now part of 4th Armd Bde and he is in many actions; the relief of Tobruk, Sidi Rezegh airfield, Gazala Line, the Cauldron, Alamein and the pursuit across Libya. He has many near misses. The scale of the fighting is sometimes incredible, with vehicles as far as the eye can see. There are constant casualties. German tanks are superior but there seems a surprising amount of success against them. There is the occasional break in Cairo and at the end in Tunis before they are shipped home for Normandy. Watt is by now an officer and commands the regt’s Sherman Firefly troop. Fortunately he suffers a severe illness and then receives a training post so he ends up missing combat altogether in the European campaign. Frankly, he’d done his share by then.

    There is a real charm to Watt’s account. The breadth of his experience is amazing, as is his survival. There is plenty of combat and it is quite detailed at times, though it is less visceral than some of the other accounts by British tankers. It is always informative, about excellent commanders like Pip Roberts and others not so talented, as well as the machinations of the army. Watt sees a lot in his journey from Trooper to RSM, to officer of the Queen. It was quite sad to see the camaraderie of the battlefield fade as the professionals retook control of it all. At the end though, you are left with a clear picture of the relentless nature of the war. The regiment was constantly re-equipping and absorbing replacements. Watt writes openly of his struggles to maintain his courage, especially after a near miss. Mistakes were made and death or terrible wounds were sometimes just an unlucky step away. It's an extraordinary story and I highly recommend this account. 4 stars
     
  2. larso

    larso Member

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    Leakey’s Luck by Rea Leakey
    With George Forty. Subtitled – A Tank Commander with Nine Lives.
    Sutton Publishing, 1999. Hardcover, 158 pages.

    The author has possibly the most far ranging career of any memoirist I have come across. He starts the war as a young regular army officer in 1RTR serving in the Western Desert. As the campaign continues he finds himself serving in a wide range of roles, including as an infantry corporal in Tobruk! He fights in Tunisia and Sicily and then from Normandy to Germany, as commander of 5th and 7th RTR. In between he is a staff officer with the Australian Airforce and 10th Army in Persia! There are indeed many close calls. It is astonishing that he survived and his story is one of the most fascinating I have read!

    Leakey grew up in Kenya and spent some of his youth watching lions attack game from the front porch! Bad times see him sent to England where relatives go to remarkable lengths to support him. It is incredible how life could hinge on the sacrifice and good will of virtual strangers. Leakey does well in officer training and is fortunate to get in some extensive pre-war service in the desert. The close calls weren’t confined to the war either, something his later stint in Persia confirms.

    The desert war begins against the Italians and Leakey is in support of mainly Australian infantry. There is quite a spirit of adventure in his writing and it is a jolt when he recounts the first of the horrific events that leave him with lifelong nightmares. Another, worse instance, occurs when he is besieged in Tobruk. So this is no ‘Tally Ho chaps’ cartoon version of war. Leakey shares the stories that you can’t tell the children. Tobruk is also the venue for an absolutely astonishing foray into front-line artillery spotting. Except he puts himself in, well behind , the German front line! Again, this is no sanitised account of battle. Leakey kills and does his best to keep killing enemies. Some of the things he has to do, to keep doing it, are bracing.

    The stint in Persia probably saves his life (at least from battle). He continually sought front line roles and it’s hard to keep track of who he fights with at times. It was that type of campaign. Leakey has considerable run-ins with difficult commanders and army bureaucracy. The bulk of his story here though is of tank battles and the extent and tempo is amazing. After missing Alamein while in Persia, Leakey is assigned to 3RTR for Tunisia and then 44RTR for Sicily. This gets him back to England for Normandy.

    The campaigns from France to Germany are markedly different to those of the desert. There is little room for manoeuvre and the concentration of German troops and resources is much greater. Leakey still tries to lead from the front but there are many difficulties. His first command, that of 5RTR is very different in that (after a horrific baptism) they spend a lot of time in an infantry role besieging Dunkirk! Then he commands 7RTR in the final drive through Germany. These campaigns are related in a briefer way than those desert battles but there are still some astonishing stories. By VE-day Leakey has done and seen an extraordinary amount but he is still slated to go to the East to invade Japan!

    This is a remarkable combat memoir. Aside from the breadth of experience, the revelations of battle confusion and horror are compelling. There is also some fascinating notes on the differences between regiments and what had to be done as a commander. Forty’s contribution is to introduce each chapter with a few paragraphs of context, which help nicely to explain what is going on. He also writes the concluding chapter which recounts Leakey’s post-war career and life, which was welcome as Leakey’s finish was somewhat abrupt. For the rest, Leakey is unsparing of the realities of battle and command. This is an engrossing book. The range of experiences is incredible. Very highly recommended!
     
  3. larso

    larso Member

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    Achtung! Minen! By Ian C. Hammerton
    Subtitled: The Making of a Flail Tank Troop Commander
    The Book Guild Limited, Lewes, 1991. Hardcover, 176 pages


    Hammerton was a very young man who joined the Territorial Army in 1938. When war came he was promptly called up and spent quite a bit of time patrolling quaint English villages without much in the way of weapons or equipment. There was a strange charm to these days. He was initially a member of the 43rd Royal Tank Regiment and there were some interesting stories of the outdated tanks they eventually received and later the idiosyncrasies of the Churchill. By this time he had progressed through officer training and had conducted numerous courses, so he put himself forward for a more active role and was accepted into the 22nd Dragoons.

    This regiment was shortly after equipped with Shermans but redesignated a flail tank unit, much to the horror of the cavalrymen. The flail equipped Shermans, called Crabs, were part of the 79th Armored Division and were assigned as infantry support. Hammerton’s first action is D-day where he is a troop commander in ‘B’ Squadron and lands with 3rd Canadian Division. This follows a very difficult Channel crossing. The men are almost glad to get onto the beach. Indeed, there is much of interest on the preparation phase for the invasion. Hammerton finds the sheer volume of supplies and the sight of so much armed power astonishing.

    Hammerton’s battle on the beach is brief but the tanks do very important work. Thereafter they are in virtually constant support throughout the Normandy battle. It was interesting to read that many commanders had little understanding of the Crab’s capabilities and they were called on less than they might have been. While most of the action is clearing mine lanes, there are some shootouts with other tanks. This is not an account of extreme combat though. Casualties are certainly suffered, in the usual awful ways but Hammerton’s troop is luckier than others. Amazingly they only suffered fatal casualties on two days in the whole campaign, including Holland and Germany. There were still many near misses and the sights and smells of battle were distressing. A rare feature is actual photos of the tanks lost, including the destroyed in turn SP guns that had done the damage. Armoured confrontations were generally deadly all round. Hammerton notes wryly that good tank country was also good anti-tank country. This, combined with the mines and the mud, especially in Holland, made for an exhausting time. At the conclusion of the war the author is involved in some local war crimes trials.

    The author is a decent man and his story is an informative and worthwhile one. As far as I know, he is the only tanker to write of battle from the point of view of flail tank. There is much to learn of the specialised equipment and the tactics employed. It was often hard to see anything and as they operated at less than walking pace, they were great targets. Remarkably, they inflicted more losses than they suffered, though Hammerton himself does this by direction rather than by his own hand. Hammerton writes well and though he spells out the awfulness of battle, he chose to gloss over the most disagreeable aspects of the fighting. Even so, I found that it compared well to the other accounts by British tankers. Recommended 3 ¾ stars.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2017
  4. larso

    larso Member

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    Tank Commander by Bill Close
    Subtitled: From the fall of France to the defeat of Germany
    Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2013.Hardcover 164 pages.

    This is the account of a Royal Tank Regiment man who managed to survive the tail end of the defeat in France, Greece, numerous battles in the desert, Normandy, Holland and the drive through Germany to the Baltic. Astonishingly he had eleven tanks ‘shot out from under him’. There was a wound or two but very few would’ve had either the luck or breadth of experience of Bill Close. Remarkably he did this all in the 3rd Tank Battalion, where he rose from a sergeant commanding a Dingo scout car to commander of a squadron of Comet tanks.

    The transfer of 3RTR to Calais was a disaster. After the first day of combat Close’s Dingo is the only one left out of ten. The tanks are quickly whittled away too though they give a reasonable account of themselves. The regiment may have served a purpose in delaying 10th Panzer Division but it loses all its equipment and many of its vitally needed trained soldiers. Close writes interestingly of what he saw of the debacle and his fortunate escape back to England.

    Following its rebuild, the regiment is sent to the desert. Here they swap their new Cruiser tanks for old ones and go to Greece. Another debacle follows. There are no spares and once again much of the regiment is captured. Close is very lucky to get to Egypt and be part of another rebuilding of the unit. There then follows the extensive desert battles. Close is involved with Crusader, Sidi Rezegh, Gazala, Alamein and Mareth. He is constantly up against superior German tanks, which sometimes are literally bearing down on him by the hundred. Many battles are a complete ‘shambles’ but he survives to inspect knocked out Tiger tanks in Tunisia.

    Though I have read over a dozen accounts by British tankers, this is the first time I have come across someone who fought at the forefront of the massive Hill 112 and Goodwood battles. The Germans contested these in strength and there are many anti-tank guns and Panthers. These shred away Close’s squadron and he himself is often jumping from his own disabled vehicle to a subordinate’s to continue the fight. A remarkable drive to Antwerp follows the German collapse in Normandy. The advance through Germany is a very tough slog. One small town alone has fifteen ant-tank guns. Close writes that even in the first week of April 1945 the British tank force of 1,000 lost 125 of its number destroyed, with another 500 put out of action for at least a day. This book strongly reveals the scale of the attrition among the men leading the charge. Close saw this coming and had long since stopped making friends.

    By the end there would’ve been few who had seen more front line action than Close. Remarkably he is the only tanker memoirist I am aware of to write from the front edge of the big Normandy battles against the panzers. It must be said though that he has a reserved tone about him. He writes quite a bit of being under fire and being hit but it is more informative than vivid. You’ll still learn very useful things, as you will about the deeds of 3RTR in general. This battalion is fortunate to have several memoirs by WW2 veterans and it was interesting to see Close’s perspective. He was quite an admirer of Bob Crisp and his observations will interest fans of ‘Brazen Chariots’. So while I can’t rate this memoir as high as others in terms of compelling narrative, it is still a very interesting read. 4 stars
     
  5. larso

    larso Member

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    In at the Finish by J. G. Smith
    Minerva Press, London, 1995. Paperback, 340 pages.

    Smith trained as a Cromwell driver and was sent to France in July 1944 as a replacement for 141st RAC. This was an armoured battalion raised from The Buffs and it operated Churchill Crocodiles. At first he is given various support duties but he agitates for a tank crew role and shortly after becomes a radio man. This is at a time or reorganisation. The regiment’s Recce and AA troops are disbanded to constitute a fourth squadron of crocodiles. These are assigned where needed. Smith’s first major action takes place with C Sqn supporting infantry reducing various channel ports (eg Le Harve) after the breakout from Normandy. Following this he proceeds to Holland and then into Germany.

    Over the next nine months Smith is present at many battles. He is on the receiving end of extensive shelling and his tank engages in duels with anti-tank guns. They support both infantry and armour and are often teamed with Flail tanks and other specialised equipment from 79th Armoured Division for operations. He has quite an eye for battle-field detritus and often comments on the wrecks of tanks and other vehicles. Detailed notes are also included on all weapons he encounters. Remarkably though his particular tank never uses its flame-thrower! There are a variety of reasons for this but the main one was breakdown. It seems his tank was forever bogged or in the hands of the fitters. There was an extraordinary number of ways a tank could be unable to operate. Smith details them all!

    This points to the strength of this book. Smith has given a very detailed account of life in an armoured regiment. Actual combat was relatively brief but there was heaps of time spent on looting, scavenging, living/sleeping, relating to civilians, frisking prisoners, preparing meals and coping with miserable winter weather. It is also an eye opening look at the roles of the members of a tank crew. This is a virtual day to day account of everything. This didn’t become monotonous though, in fact it was fairly engrossing.

    This is an important addition to the literature of British armoured forces. It offers less about combat, though again, Smith has an eye for the impact of war on soldiers and their weapons, it does lay bare the miniature of day to day life in combat operations. There are certainly things of interest, for instance the dim view held of Guards Armd Division but the horror of flame-throwers specifically and armoured warfare generally are to be found elsewhere. 4 stars for the close up on army life but 3 stars overall.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2017
  6. larso

    larso Member

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    One Young Soldier by Tim Bishop
    Bishop was the son of a WW1 battalion commander. He grew up in prosperous circumstances that allowed him to play sport and ride horses. He always intended to be a soldier and was able to combine these interests by joining the Life Guards as a trooper in 1934. Following his commission he joined the 12th Lancers and served with these in France and throughout the desert campaign.

    The opening chapters about life in the Life Guards was almost mesmerising. They were a ceremonial regiment and much daily activity was given to keeping the horses and equipment in super shiny condition. The efforts Bishop has to go to are amazing. Often he had to miss a meal. The arcane ways of the army and the eccentricities of many of his superiors were a jolt. Training was almost as constant as grooming and cleaning. It was almost the life of an indentured servant. It was austere and often forbidding. Even the shaving water was always cold! Yet at the end of it Bishop is a very smart young man and there were some compensations. Riding in parade in full uniform was one. When the British did pageantry, they did it very, very well!

    In 1940 Bishop, now a troop commander in 12th Lancers, deploys to France. They are a recon unit and operate Morris armoured cars. They are full of confidence, so the power of the German attack comes as a great shock. The most notable element is the Luftwaffe. The British seem to always be under air-attack. Indeed, for the main part of his war, Bishop seems to be under a Luftwaffe carpet, so rarely does he see a British plane. There are also sharp encounters with German troops and tanks. There are narrow escapes and then especial providence at Dunkirk. The spirit of the 12th Lancers through it all is remarkable. Especially so given its casualties. This is one of the clearer accounts of this campaign.

    Following its rebuild it goes to the desert, operating with both 1st and 7th Armoured Divisions. Initially Bishop continues as a troop commander and again has a series of adventures in the swirling desert battles. Prior to Alamein he is made regimental adjutant and there is quite a lot to this role, though it generally keeps him out of direct fire situations. He is still shelled and subject to frequent Luftwaffe attack. These and the standard interruptions to his day, given his job, see him get remarkably little sleep. He continues in this role to the end in Tunisia, where the regiment operates with 1st Army. He is promoted to command ‘A’ squadron but returns to England before it deploys to Italy. He is then involved in training duties until the war ends.

    Bishop died in 1986 and Bruce Shand (also of the 12th Lancers, whose own memoir is titled ‘Previous Engagements’) compiled this book from Bishop’s extensive diaries. It is all written in the first person and you really get a sense of the drama of mechanized recon work. There are casualties, though Bishop is not specific about his own contributions to those of the enemy. While the tone is remarkably upbeat, there are some very dark days, especially in 1940. Bishop loves writing of anything horse related and there are dozens of references to the other cavalry regiments he encounters during his service. He is the quintessential regular British officer. Optimistic and unperturbed and very, very brave.

    This is why we read books. They can take you away to a time long lost, through the perils of a world war and do it with a charm that sees you home for tea. The author conveys the times and his times wonderfully. Being dropped off by his father on his first day at the Life Guards mortified him! He faced far worse on the battlefield but he kept an air of unflappability and wrote it all up in great detail. This is less visceral than others but highly readable for its perspective and tone.
     
  7. larso

    larso Member

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    To War with the Bays: A Tank Gunner Remembers by Jack Mereward

    Jack is conscripted and after basic training assigned to The Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards). He goes to France with a replacement draft but is not committed before a lucky escape back to England. At this dire time he notes the enormous generosity of spirit in the country towards soldiers. He ships out to the Western Desert where he fights in many actions, including Alamein and the battles in Tunisia. In 1944 his unit is sent to Italy and quite severe combat.

    Mereward is a tank gunner. He started operations in Crusaders switched to Stuarts - which he didn’t like. Then came Grants and he gives some good descriptions here. For Alamein, the regiment has re-equipped again, finally with Shermans. In this battle, he remembers they had a 2am after the most glorious sunset. They edged through narrow paths in the minefields and supported Australian infantry. At the end his squadron (B) has only 12 tanks left out of 29. Mereward’s own tank is hit six times and despite finishing the battle it is written off. Mereward’s accounts of battle are generally brief, though he did enough here for his MG to go from red to white hot. There follows some actions in Tunisia, including the Mareth Line, which takes longer than expected to conclude. It in this phase, he sees his first Tiger tank and is amazed at its size.

    Following a very lengthy rest the Bays go to Italy in May 1944. Mereward is fortunate to miss the decimation of his unit at Coriano Ridge but there follow many other actions and a corresponding number of casualties. Mereward writes of the deaths of friends, sometimes accidentally and the wounds, including burns. It was a very stressful job. Interestingly, considering the magnitude of the desert battles, the Italian phase is more bitter. Mereward encounters atrocities committed by the Germans against Italian civilians and sees, and notably deals with at one point, German misconduct on the battlefield. This incident aside, Mereward rarely writes of firing and killing. It is clear he was in the thick of much heavy fighting but he has mostly chosen to be sparing of such details.

    Indeed, the bulk of Merewood’s account concerns more the interactions of the tank crew and other friends. There is a lot on the practicalities of operating tanks. As well as the ongoing scrounging for food and smokes. He is more detailed with this usually than he is with the epic battles he fought in. There is also quite a bit on the people he met and his subsequent correspondence with. In fact, most of this is covered virtually day by day. There were a few new things for me and the author certainly saw some very grim things but it is relatively sanitised overall. This said, this is a wide ranging look at a decent young man’s five years at war. 3 1/3 stars
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2017
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  8. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    Cracking reviews, Larso. Really sound and thorough.

    Still think Hills's 'By Tank Into Normandy' is one of the better WW2 memoirs out there, and though I've read several here you've inspired me to try a few more (and even crack on with some that have sat on the shameful unread pile for years.)
     
  9. larso

    larso Member

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    Thanks vonPoop. During my 'break' a couple more have come out too. Happilt they're both on Kindle, which is making things cheaper and easier. I've also got Shand's 'Previous Engagements' (9th Lancers) coming.
     
  10. albowie

    albowie New Member

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    Tank Action: An Armoured Troop Commander's War 1944-45
    by Captain David Render (Author), Stuart Tootal (Author)
    A memoir of an A Sqn Tp Leader in the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry serving from D+3 until VE day. This is an excellent book packed with lots of useful information and recollections. Having read quite a few other titles on the SRY recently this book added new information and alternate views of some of the actions between D Day and VE day. He discusses personalities, tactics and crew roles with an easy style that had me finishing this all too soon. It gives another great overview of the campaign and I found this as enjoyable as Stuart Hills memoir (C Sqn SRY) Another must read Memoir.
    Al
     
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  11. BFBSM

    BFBSM Member

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    Two more for your collection:

    Shots in the Sand: An undergraduate goes to war, Michael Halsted, Gooday Publishers 1990. ISBN 1870568192 (The Queen's Bays 1941 - May 1942)

    Armoured Horseman: With The Bays and Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy, Peter Willett, Pen & Swod, 2015. ISBN: 147383421X (The Queen's Bays June 1941 - 1945, include his activities following the end of the war organising horse racing events in Italy and his life in horseracing following the war. Peter died in November 2015).

    Mark
     
  12. TIRDAD

    TIRDAD Active Member

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    greetings,

    how can i buy these books from Iran ???
     
  13. larso

    larso Member

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    I'm amazed at how others keep popping up - thanks for the tip about 'Shots in the Sand'. Willet's and Render's are the ones I referred to and I'll look to get them on Kindle for holiday reading. Here is what I had to say about Shand's -

    Previous Engagements by Bruce Shand

    Shand joined the 12th Lancers in 1937, with socialising, hunting and riding on his mind more than anything else. Horses were only for personal time, as the regiment,
    having been a leader in mechanisation, actually operated Morris armoured cars. Shand commanded ‘A’ Squadron when they deployed to France in October 1939. His active career included the subsequent campaign and evacuation, before further action in Africa until he was captured late in 1942. The book concludes with his time as a POW.

    There is a fairly interesting account of the events in France in 1940. There was a lot of sitting around and socialising. When the Germans attacked there was a steady withdrawal and much chaos. Shand gradually loses his vehicles and crews in the process of his screening duties. They are allocated a policing role for Dunkirk and the Luftwaffe was much in evidence. Actual detail on battle though is fairly scant. There are certainly close calls with German elements but Shand is not really forthcoming on this. It is similar with North Africa and even Alamein. There is a lot of back and forth and continual whittling away of the unit. There are tragic deaths and wounds but the combat is not really strongly revealed. Shand’s time as a POW is of interest but there’s not a lot of variety in such a situation.

    Shand is more forthcoming in relation to those he served with. He rated and described some colleagues very highly, others a great deal less so. Not everyone is a good organiser or people person and the stress of war makes it all harder again. Even so, Shand shows how the officer corps generally was mostly able to conduct themselves in a professional and courageous manner. Shand himself won the MC twice and attained the rank of Major. I prefer my war memoirs to focus on the combat but Shand’s account is also of value in showing the doings of his social class. After the war he was successful in business and was father to Lady Parker Bowles, who ultimately married Prince Charles. As a war memoir it is more of interest as a perspective of the life of an officer. It is well written and wryly humorous at times. 3 stars overall.
     
  14. SDP

    SDP recruit

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    'The Sharp End' by Major John Langdon MC
    Subtitle: A personal account of life in a tank unit in the Second World War'

    Johnny Langdon commanded 1st Troop, 'A' Squadron, 3rd Battalion Royal Tank Regiment.

    The book covers the period from when he joined 3RTR in July 1943, through the Normandy Campaign after D-Day, and via Belgium, the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge), and the final push into Germany where his Troop/3RTR ended the War up near the Danish border.

    He gives an almost blow-by-blow account of the campaign in a very matter of fact style.

    This book is especially important to me because that was also my fathers Sherman tank Troop (later being equipped with Comet tanks from December 1944) and so, in effect, traces the precise path my father took in those far off days.
     
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  15. larso

    larso Member

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    Tank Action by Render
    Render joined the army at eighteen, noting that the bastardisation he experienced at his private school was good preparation for the treatment he received from the NCOs. While his army training was brutish and repetitive he got enough of it to emerge as a 2nd Lt assigned to the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry. This unit was equipped with DD Shermans for D-Day.

    Render joined his regiment as a replacement officer on D+5. He had been sent to Normandy in fairly bizarre circumstances and received some awful jolts in the process. He was made commander of 5 Troop and largely continued in this role until VE-day. Again there are some jolts, including in dealing with his own men. He participated in extensive fighting in the bocage country, the ‘swan’ through France, combat in the Holland and the advance through Germany.

    The author experiences extensive combat. He is fortunate to have an experienced and sensible CO and the tactics they adopt give them considerable success in the hedgerows and against German tanks. He fights the SS and Falschirmjagers as well as regular German troops and has some interesting and dramatic things to say. It is close quarters stuff at times, as there are a lot of threats to his tank. He is responsible for significant carnage and relates it all. It is of course no means one way, the regiment loses 50 tank commanders in Normandy and the average ‘life’ of one is two weeks.

    This points to some of the difficulties he experienced at the start. His crew knew he was inexperienced and quite likely to get them killed. It took a lot to win them over. He discusses this as part of an excellent appraisal of small unit leadership in war. Britain had been at war for 5 years and the line between an experienced and a ‘played-out’ soldier was fine. Render also has some clear sighted things to say about German abilities and equipment. He also has an eye for German vehicle types and has for instance, several dramatic encounters with Jagdpanthers.

    This is a very good war memoir. Perhaps because he was only nineteen for the bulk of it he has retained a clear memory of events. Still it is a remarkable account by a man who was 90. There are a heap of interesting little tidbits throughout. For instance the weaknesses of the Sherman Firefly and various statistics, that will be new to even a well-read reader on this theatre. It is fascinating, poignant and frankly, often very exciting. It is recently written and would appeal to a modern audience, especially members of this forum. I highly recommend it! 4 ½ stars
     
  16. Seroster

    Seroster New Member

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    I know one more book for you to add to your list - Take These Men by Cyril Joly. It does not use soldiers' actual names (not sure why) but I don't think it's actually a fictionalized account. There is one soldier mentioned who was not liked by the rest of the unit and who dies rather horribly, so I wonder if he didn't pick that approach to spare soldiers' families of any discomfort.

    That aside, it covers Joly's experiences with 3RTR from (IIRC) Operation Compass up to the end of the North African campaign, although around El Alamein and after it gets quite brief as he was working as a staff officer.
     
  17. larso

    larso Member

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    Armoured Horseman: With the Bays and the 8th Army In Africa and Italy by Peter Willett

    Willett entered the army with the intention of gaining a commission. His initial training was done with the 4th and 6th Cavalry Training regiments. He has a number of both profane and humorous stories from this time and some interesting insights on the class differences to be found in British society. At Sandhurst he is pointed towards an interview with a recruitment officer of the Queen’s Bays. When he is found to have been to the right schools and ridden with suitable fox hunts, he is selected to serve. While seemingly a bizarre process it was really about establishing whether he would fit in with his fellow officers, which in war is pretty important. He joins the regiment in Africa and stays with it until the end of the war in Italy.

    Initially there is no combat command available, so he runs various support services. The Bays are part of 2nd Armd Bde, 1st Armd Division. When Rommel launches the attack that takes Tobruk and carries forward to Alamain, the Bays are roughly handled. They also commit themselves well and Willett’s observations are very interesting. By Alamein there have been plenty of ‘openings’ and Willett commands a Crusader troop through those battles. It is astonishing how hard the Germans were to beat. There then follows the pursuit towards Tunis (at one point his is the leading troop of the whole army) and various fights along the way. Willett is lucky to make it. Many of his comrades do not. He has some dramatic (and at least one very harrowing) clashes.

    Following a lengthy break the regiment heads to Italy. As with other tank units they struggle with the terrain and weather and find it impossible to deploy properly. There are some bad days indeed, as the Germans continue to fight determinedly. The leadership gets better but there’s one winter too many. Willett, in a Sherman now and second in command of A Sqn has some more close escapes. At the end he finds himself assigned to set up race meets between the cavalry regiments and turns it into an extensive post-war career.

    This is yet another strong memoir by a British cavalry (armoured) officer. It is no blood and gore account but there are a number of very grim doings. The officer who rode out despite his strong (and accurate) premonition of death stands out. There are a number of other jarring commentaries of fellow officers. Indeed, it is refreshing to read blunt opinions but I guess, given the such late publication, that even those subjects who survived the war, were deceased anyway. (At his death in 2015, Willett was the last surviving Bays officer from Alamein.) It is probable that this will be the last memoir published by a man who was there. While there are many interesting elements he participated in, Willett also includes several detailed passages by fellow officers. Willett also has insightful explanations about commanders and the use of tanks. All up there is a lot to like. 4 stars
     
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  18. larso

    larso Member

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    Soldier On by S. W. Knowles

    The author joins B squadron of the 16th/5th Lancers in Tunisia at the end of the battles there. He goes to battle himself in Italy, initially as an infantryman. Then there is some time in the rear echelon until a ‘vacancy’ arises. He is then a radioman in a Sherman until the end of the campaign. He finishes the war on occupation duty in Austria.

    While Knowles is involved in quite a few armoured engagements, he doesn’t write much about these. His tank is hit a few times and there are crew casualties but there isn’t the sense of being in a tank. His most vivid accounts of the war happen outside. He is at various times sent on patrols or fatigues of some sort to the front line. Here they are on the receiving end of shelling and some awful things happen. There is also quite a bit on soldiering in Italy, the weather and winter, food and drink. Knowles is a decent man, who did his duty. This account is the only one I know about pertaining to this regiment. Even so, while written well enough, there isn’t much that is compelling about tanks in battle. 2¾ stars
     
  19. larso

    larso Member

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    The 8.15 to War by Peter Roach

    This is a remarkable book published in 1982. (Yet despite numerous searches over a decade for accounts on this topic, it only appeared to me recently?) Roach had an unusual start to the war by joining the Merchant Service – he’d just spent two years sailing his own boat around the world. However, after voyages spent dodging torpedoes, bombs and shells, he decided he wanted to shoot back. This resulted in him joining the 1st Tank Regiment of the 7th Armoured Division in Africa. He is then in Italy, before fighting in Normandy and Holland.

    The first thing to be said is that Roach writes in a very poetic style. It is very engaging but not as precise as a more standard narrative. He rarely refers to others by their actual names, preferring nicknames, their rank or just an initial. Sometimes it’s clear why. Other times I think it reflects the transient existence, with men coming and going on a regular basis. The other thing to note is that for his stint in Africa to Tunisia, Roach is mostly involved in support and radio work, often for his commander and doesn’t see much in the way of action, though towards the end there he does some patrolling work. There is quite a bit on the conditions, air raids and the ongoing quest for alcohol and food. But there’s enough death nearby for him to write of eating, with ‘the smell of cooking flesh’. So it certainly has an edge to it. Interestingly, he writes of poor treatment by ‘division’ in the way of giving them rest and proper facilities after the campaign.

    For Italy they hand back in their scout cars for bren gun carriers, which infuriated them. Roach is in recce troop, though as operator for the troop leader. He enjoyed this, noting this was where the sabre squadrons had dumped their most ‘bolshie’ men. But rather than them being difficult, Roach found these fellows to be ‘individuals’ (like himself). The unit returns to England for the invasion of France. They are issued with Humber scout cars which were widely disliked but there was complete gloom at receiving Cromwells.

    In Normandy, Roach is still in recce troop but though a mere corporal, operates as liaison officer. He is given command of his own Stewart tank, though with the turret removed. The days are terribly long and exhaustion and the deadly resistance of the Germans wear everyone down. The tiffs and tones he hears over the ‘net reveal a lot of this. He is on the edge of several of the epic battles but he only sees the aftermath of these. There are many casualties around him, he eventually suffers a wound himself.

    Roach’s final tilt with the Germans comes in Holland. By this stage he has gone a bit ‘bomb happy’ and begins to take risks. He is not necessarily afraid, just worn completely down. He also has his moments of battle lust where he finally gets to shoot back properly. By now though, he’s thoroughly sick of the army and despite a heroic swansong, there’s one last injustice and a life long regret. It’s been a very long war.

    For this review, I reread the second half of the book again and enjoyed it thoroughly. Roach is extremely observant, with a wry and often cynical turn of phrase. It is full of little details; the boredom, the tragedies. Effort and bravery are not always rewarded. Roach does an officers job, for corporal pay. Some of the actual officers argue or are fools. Others are steady and it seems, doomed to die. Roach can’t help but begrudge those in depots who gain easier promotions in much safer duties. It’s clear Roach was a difficult subordinate at times. As a writer however, he is fascinating and colourful, humourous and honest. This is a richly written book that says more than it initially appears to. Highly recommended 4 ¼ stars.
     
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  20. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    Thanks for the review, Larso. I've only recently been able to add this one to my collection ( thanks to e-bay ) and have yet to read it...
     
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