Little Audrey Part 2

Extracts of the Memoirs of 14404393 Trooper Leslie Dinning
1st Royal Tank Regiment
1944

Eventually we got the order to advance and we went over the level crossing and up the road, it was a cobbled road, towards the town ahead of us, probably about a mile ahead down this tree-lined road. We were about the third or fourth tank back. We were half way down the road when we got orders to return. As the tank did a neutral turn on the cobbles it slide to one side and the gun caught one of the trees forcing the turret round while the tank was trying to go the other way. There is a gear ring in the hull on which the turret is rotated by a gear wheel powered either by hydraulics or by a hand wheel. As the gun was forced around, there were sparks everywhere. I thought we'd been hit. I turned and grabbed the commander by the ankle and shouted "Bail out, bail out!” It was all over in a few seconds but I really thought we had been hit, the instinct of a tankman is to get out if you've been hit. I don't think it actually ripped the teeth off the turret ring, because it didn't take the LAD (Light Aid Detachment) long to put it right.

On the 29 September 1944 the tank commander, (Sgt. Arthur Davies) and wireless operator (Corporal Taffy Glenton's) were mortally wounded by a bazooka strike. We had made a long march to take over a sector of the left flank protecting the narrow corridor to Arnham in the “Market Garden” battle. En route, the left front bogy of my tank sheared from its mountings; we were left behind, but the L.A.D coming up from the rear didn't take more than about an hour to unbolt the sheared mounting and replace the bogy, and off we went again.

US Army 82nd paratroopers and a captured German Panther Tank, Holland, operation Market Garden 1944 

88

 

When we caught up with the regiment, our squadron was in a field just short of Olland, a small village with houses spread thinly each side of the road between St.Oedenrode and s’Hertogenbosch. This road was continually being cut by the Germans to harass the withdrawal from Arnham and our progress north to s’Hertogenbosch. When we stopped we had just started to make a brew, and bang an "88" firing into the field, no question about that, you could never mistake an "88".

My troop was immediately ordered to move out onto the road and locate the enemy who had once again cut the road. We were the leading tank with two Shermans following up. We knew the "88" was going to be hidden somewhere along the road and as we were passing through Olland we were concentrating hard on finding the gun before it found us and completely forgot about the ditches either side of the road. We had no infantry with us; it was a case of locate that gun. All of a sudden - Wallop! - We were bazookered. The Bazooka hit the radio operator's periscope.

The Cromwell has a flat gradual sloping roof with two hatches, one for the commander and one for the wireless operator, two periscopes, and one for the operator and one for the gunner.



The Bazooka hit the wireless-operators, periscope, blew it in, and as it turned out, mortally wounded him and the tank commander. The turret was full of smoke as I turned around saw the Arthur climbing out and I followed him onto the engine cover behind the turret. I could see Arthur was wounded, but didn't know how badly. The two Shermans behind us were firing their machine guns down the road making the Germans keep their heads down and the driver, Johnny Firth, reversed as fast as he could. You can always tell when a Cromwell is on the maximum of its governor because the engine backfires like mad.

We reversed about 50 yards or so and Johnny Firth did a neutral turn in the road, as he did so we clambered around the turret to keep it between us and the enemy, after about another 100 yards we stopped beside a house and dismounted. Taffy was lifted out of the turret and laid on a stretcher beside the house and I stood by him leaning against a tree (its surprising how clear a memory one has of such occasions) I think someone asked me if I was okay. All that happened to me was a black eye, I was looking through my telescope when the Bazooka hit and I was protected by the breech of the gun.



It wasn't long before, the Germans who had fired the Bazooka came trotting past us under escort, and they ran between Taffy Glenton and me. They had stuck their hands up and were taken prisoner. I learnt that Taffy Glenton and Arthur Davies had died from their wounds the following day. I was badly affected by the death of Taffy, I thought it was most unfair that he had gone through the entire North Africa campaign and I had been with him ever since I joined the tank, why him? In fact I kept his Italian ground sheet which was superior to the British ones; I kept it, with his name on it for years and years until it fell to bits. The gunner in one of the Shermans, a chap called Lofty Barrett, told me later that his heart went out to us when he saw the black smoke from the bazooka strike.

Johnny Firth and I took the tank to the LAD that evening where they replaced the periscope, the wireless operators half hatch, which had been blown off by the bazooka, and cleaned out the tank while we slept. The next day we reported back to the regiment and went straight into action with and a young officer, just out from the UK, as the tank commander, and a lance corporal wireless operator.



Soon after the young officer took command we were attacking in squadron strength line abreast, across a large open field towards some woodland and we came under heavy antitank fire. There was a small village to our right straddling a road running in the direction of the attack. I could see tanks being knocked out around me, but could not see a target to fire at. Almost as the firing commenced, Johnny Firth, who to my knowledge always drove with his visor open, could clearly see what was going on, and knowing that he had an inexperienced commander immediately veered to the right and drove behind a group of buildings in the village and stopped. I still had a clear view of the action going on to my left, the other tanks were being knocked out one after another and the crews were bailing out. I could see the hits from the AP shots, and each time there was a hit I saw the armoured plating glow, one tank did not burn straight away, and was hit repeatedly until it finally caught fire. In the meantime, the surviving crews were congregating around us.

Some of them were wounded and we did what we could for them.

The German gunners had seen us disappear behind the houses, and tried to hit us through the buildings, I could see their shots coming through the brickwork just above ground level, but fortunately the shots went in front and behind us. We remained in that position for the rest of the day and well into the night, presumably ordered to do so, to hold the line. There was quite a battle going on in the village, and we gave supporting fire to the infantry. The surviving crews of the knocked out tanks made their way back on foot, except one who was badly hurt, and he remained on the back of my tank where I tend him when the action died down. For whatever reason we could not get him away and he remained with us until first light the following day. I often wonder if he survived. I hope so.

Soon after this action, the officer left, and Staff Sergeant Conky Harland took command of my tank as Troop Leader. Conky had served with the regiment since Alamein and had been awarded the Military Medal, and soon after taking command, was commissioned in the field. I was and still remain very impressed by Conky, as he approached our tank he introduced himself saying, “My name is Harland, you can call me Conky. I shall always remember him with great affection.

Ssgt Haland

I never experienced actual penetration by armoured piecing shot, but I imagine it must be pretty dramatic for those who survive it. I recall being hit by an armoured piecing shot somewhere in Belgium. We had just entered a small village when my troop, two Firefly’s and a Cromwell, were ordered to move across a large open field to get into a sunken road where it was known there was a large concentration of German troops.

We crossed the field, line abreast with my tank in the centre, about half way across we came to a ditch which couldn't be see when we set out and there was no way we could get across. As we stopped to consider what to do, Conky Harland came up on the intercom "Traverse right; antitank gun."

PaK 40 75mm anti-tank gun

I swung the gun around, but all I could see was a line of hedges running along the side of the field. I said, "I can't see it, Conky." He said, "Go right a bit, right a bit.” he was trying to sight down the gun barrel to line me up, but all I could see was the hedge. He was standing head and shoulders out of the turret hatch and was two or three feet higher than me. He could see over the hedge and could see the anti-tank gun being towed along the road, coming to support the troops in the sunken road. He then said "Never mind, it's gone." Next thing we knew, was the Sherman on our left coming on the air "I've been hit." Almost immediately the Sherman on our right said, "I've been hit." At that moment the driver, Johnny Firth, again without waiting for orders, reversed behind the knocked out Sherman on our right, and I'm convinced this saved my life, it was the experienced soldier acting immediately without command, and there we were - stuck. The anti-tank gun had got onto position and fired just two shots and each shot took out the gunner in the Shermans, straight through the gun mantle. He could not have been firing at less than 1000 or 1500 yards. He had gone for the big guns of the Shermans first, his gun sight must have gone right across me to get to the Sherman on our right and there was little doubt he was coming back for us.

 

25 Pounder Ammunition

Each regiment of tanks had a troop of 25 pdrs in support and we called up for smoke. Again the standard of gunnery was remarkable. The 25 pdrs put a ring of shells around us all from a map reference. Down came the smoke and the survivors from the other tanks climbed out of the ditch onto my tank and off we went. As we moved off through the smoke, we were hit. I didn't know we had been hit, but the driver felt the jolt and informed us on the intercom. Fortunately it didn't stopped us. When we got clear, we found the shot had hit low down on the right side by the engine compartment. It had gone through the last but one road wheel, through the first plate of armour, about one inch thick, hit one of the heavy suspension arms between the first sheet of armour plating and the engine compartment which stopped it. It showed the standard of gunnery, the German gunner fired just three shots and all three shots hit. The Germans knew what was going to happen when the smoke came down, and lined up the gun where they though we'd be and as soon as he heard us move off, he fired through the smoke as we came forward into the gap between the Sherman's. That gun saved a lot of German troops in that sunken road, for if we had got in among them it would have been mayhem.

The other incident was in Holland where the country roads were mostly elevated above the very wet and soft low ground. On this occasion we were off the road going across an open field, making hard work of the soft ground with other tanks round us. We got quarter of the way across the field and bellied down, that is the bottom of the tank was resting on the mud and the tracks just churn around getting us no where. The rest of the squadron went on and left us on our own. We got out to look at the situation, and suddenly there was a German soldier standing about 50 yards from us. We all jumped back in the tank and as I traverse the gun round on him I saw he had his hands up and was standing there, twisting the rings on his fingers. Conky Harland waved him forward, he obviously wanted to surrender and by twisting his rings he was telling us he was married. When he got to the tank he informed us he had some friends across the field in a ditch who also wanted to surrender. We said “OK go and get them." and were soon surrounded by thirty or forty Germans, all quite happy to surrender. Just think about the situation - there we were, just five of us out in the open, they could have taken us out without anyone knowing anything about it.

They were still carrying their weapons! We told them to put them in a pile, and they did so. They looked a sorry lot, I remember crouching on the back of the tank looking down at them, I don't know why, but acting instinctively, I went to the turret and got a tin of fifty cigarettes from my stockpile, unsealed it and lit a cigarette for myself and threw the tin to one of the German soldiers, indicating to him to pass them around. They'd given up, and we were all soldiers together.

“We actually set foot into Germany during the winter at Broek Sittard just on the Belgium and German border.”


 

Part 3 To follow

Acknowledgement

WW2 People's War is an archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC.

Lots more Photos on my Facebook profile.

The_Challenger
“Fear Naught”