‘Rogue Male’ is a new book about Geoffrey Gordon-Creed, a British special operations officer in World War II, who was also quite a character both on and off the frontlines. Check out the extract below and then read on to learn how you could win an exclusive Falklands War tank battle print, autographed by both the author and the artist.
Competition Rules and Entry Requirements are also at the bottom.
‘Driver . . . halt.’
‘Gunner . . . traverse left.’ Wait for the gunner to find the target. ‘ON!’
‘Enemy tank, range 800, 2-pounder. FIRE!’ Carefully observe fall of shot.
‘Miss.’ Work out necessary correction to land the next shell on target.
‘Up 50 . . . FIRE!’ Observe target.
‘HIT! FIRE!’ Give the enemy tank a second shell to finish it off.
‘Enemy destroyed. Driver advance.’
The above drivel was more or less the correct sequence of a tank commander’s fire orders to his gunner as taught at the Gunnery School at Lulworth, on the Dorset coast, in 1940. I would dearly love to have seen some of those gunnery instructors exposed to the realities of tank warfare in North Africa in 1941 and 1942. I am sure that it is all very different nowadays but, at the time about which I am writing, a tank commander in the desert, sitting in one of our tanks, had more than a few problems vis-à-vis his German counterpart. True, we often outnumbered our enemy by three to one, but our losses were always three to one against. And that was because we never had a gun mounted on our tanks worth a damn. Our 37 and 40 mm guns were up against the Germans and their 50, 75 and 88 mm calibre weapons. Popguns versus real cannons. And our 35 to 45 mm thickness of defensive armour plate was no match compared to their 45 to 65 mm. Our tank guns could penetrate the side plates, but only the side plates, of a German Mark III ‘medium’ tank at a maximum range of about 800 yards – 500 yards was more like it. But they could not penetrate their front armour.
Their guns could punch holes in our tanks, front or side. They could do just the same at 800 yards and to 1000 yards plus from their Mark III and IV Panzers. Once their 88 mm anti-tank guns got involved it got a whole load worse: they could smash through 150 mm of armour at 2000 yards and could fire fifteen to twenty rounds a minute. The German 88 mm was a tank-killer. In short, we were hopelessly outgunned and out-armoured.
Fortunately or unfortunately, we were in blissful ignorance of these facts when we arrived in Egypt on 1 October 1941. We were the first brigade to be entirely equipped with the brand new Cruiser Mark VI tank. We had high hopes of what we, and they, would achieve.
I would not bore you with the tedious details of our approach march, but on a certain chilly evening in November – 18 November to be precise – we learned that, on the morrow, we were committed in brigade strength to attack the Italian Ariete Armoured Division, twice our strength in numbers, which was dug in around Bir el Gubi. We were given a briefing by the brigade intelligence officer, who told us that the only tank that might worry us was the German Mark IV. But not to worry, there were only twenty of them in North Africa. The German Mark IIs and IIIs and the Italian M13s would present no problem.
Was I nervous and apprehensive that night? Of course I was. How would I behave under fire? Would I be killed – or worse, maimed? I lay awake and worried.
As I recall it was not until about nine the following morning, after we had been deployed in line of battle, three squadrons up and one held back in reserve, that dear old Charles Birley, the ex-17/21st Lancer and our colonel forgetting everything that he was supposed to have learned about modern war tactics, came up on the air. ‘Royal Gloucestershire Hussars,’ he trumpeted, ‘the enemy are in front of you. You will attack and destroy them . . . Charge!’ His voice rose to a scream. ‘CHARGE!’
No mention, you might notice, of what we were supposed to be charging. Tanks? Dug-in anti-tank guns? Minefields? How far to go and when to stop? Just minor details, albeit of considerable interest to us. So . . . charge we did, and a very brave sight it must have been.
However, in those days a tank commander could see very little out of his periscope and I, like everyone else, was charging along with my head stuck well above the turret in order to see where I was going.
As the eleven day battle progressed the route of 2 RGH on this battle map looks like that of an increasingly demented spider. Stuart Pitman who fought with Geoff and who drew this map, on explaining why it looked so confusing said of his maps: ‘They are not, however, anything like the muddle experienced at the time.’
I became shortly aware of machine-gun tracer bullets approaching me from all angles and ducked down inside the turret, but not before I had been nicked through the very top of my scalp. Still, exhorted by my colonel I pressed on, and suddenly there were enemy tanks milling around – dozens of them, it seemed, and at short range.
‘Driver . . . halt.’ I remembered that much. Then: ‘Gunner, can you see them ?’
‘Then shoot !’
He destroyed two in short order, set another smoking and was about to administer the coup de grâce when there came a bang and my tank gave a violent swerve to the left. I called my driver over the intercom.
‘What the hell’s up?’
‘I think the left track ’as gorn, Sir.’
‘Try to keep her moving or we’re gorn.’
Scarcely had I spoken when a 50 mm shell pierced the turret with a hell of a bang. It smashed through my gunner’s shoulder, ricocheted off the firing mechanism of our 2-pounder gun and ripped up the back of my loader/wireless operator, who was twisted around reaching for another shell. A three-inch steel splinter went deep into my thigh, although I was unaware of this until hours later when I tried to drop my pants. Instant and total chaos – and no intercom working inside the tank.
The turret happened to be traversed to the seven o’clock position, back over the engine decks, when we were hit, which was fortunate as there was just a sufficient gap between the turret and the driver’s compartment for me to yell at him to stop floundering around and bail out. While I was down another shell came through the turret higher up. I grabbed a hand grenade and the first aid box and hurled myself up and out of the tank and on to the sand. My first intent was to escape a death trap and then, somehow, to extricate my two desperately wounded men.
Outside, hugging Mother Earth, the noise, dust and confusion were horrendous. A limping Italian M13 tank drove slowly past me about thirty yards away and its commander, seeing me lying there, reached down and lobbed a grenade at me. He should not have done that. It went off with a flash and a bang. It frightened me witless and enraged me to the extent that I took pleasure, when his tank stalled a few yards further on, in sprinting across the sand, hopping aboard and dropping my grenade down his turret .
My driver, Trooper Parker, and I had a hard time getting the wounded loader and gunner out. We managed by dint of giving them near-lethal injections of morphine and I patched them up as best I could until our medical officer arrived and carted them off. Surprisingly, they both survived.
I got a corporal in the Rifle Brigade to hitch up his Bren carrier to my broken track, which I had located about a hundred yards from where we had finished up, and had him tow the track to within a few yards of l’Hirondelle. Murrow and I spent the entire night manhandling the swine, link by link, until we had got it repaired and reassembled on the sprockets. At first light we limped eastwards for about ten miles and, by good fortune, fell in with our brigade.
Our foolhardy charge had cost us eighteen tanks.
That description was of Day One of an eleven day tank battle. At the end of it, when two Royal Gloucestershire Hussars were pulled out of the line, the Regiment had been almost destroyed. On 24 November 1941, day 7 of the battle, the Regiment’s War Diary [published at the end of the book] recorded that the entire regiment consisted of only four fighting tanks.
However, with fresh men and material flooding in, 2RGH were quickly reformed and issued with American M3 Stuart light tanks. Known as ‘Honeys’, they were meant to be fast and reliable: Geoff did not agree. Armed with a tiny 37mm cannon and with thin armour they were no match for German panzers, especially when Day 1 of the next battle saw them go into action without gun sights. The result was inevitable: 2RGH were almost destroyed for the second time.
Again re-equipped and with fresh men they went to it a third time in June 1942, in a series of great tank battles known as The Cauldron and which saw the British out-manoeuvred, out-fought and driven back towards El Alamein. Luck had Geoff miss the last couple of days, which saw 2RGH decimated for the third and last time. They were not reformed as a regiment thereafter.
Geoff volunteered to command two Honeys on the great SAS raid on Benghazi. His task was to attack enemy destroyers in the harbour: a suicide mission if ever there was one. The Honeys soon broke down – the SAS never used tanks on a raid again – but Geoff continued. It was another disaster, the Germans and Italians were waiting.
Finally, he joined SOE and fought behind the lines in Greece, winning an ‘immediate’ DSO (one down from a V.C.) and a mention in Winston Churchill’s great History of the Second World War. As usual, Geoff had again pulled off the impossible and survived to tell his extraordinary tale.
Roger Field joined The Blues and Royals (Household Cavalry) in 1974 and became a troop leader, commanding three 55 ton Chieftain Tanks. In 1980, his Regiment were re-equipped with Scorpion and Scimitar tracked armoured cars [light tanks which are still in action in Afghanistan today].
In 1982, two troops of B Squadron, The Blues and Royals, were sent to the Falklands. Each troop consisted of two Scorpions and two Scimitars. On 13 June, Roger fought with 3 Troop at the Battle of Wireless Ridge, in support of 2 Para, a battle that saw them almost empty their turrets of ammunition. The next day, 3 Troop and 2 Para led the charge into Port Stanley as the Argentineans collapsed.
Roger left the regular army in 1983, but joined The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry (Territorial Army), equipped with wheeled Fox armoured cars. He finally resigned in 1988.
He now works in publishing and publishing law as well as being an author and journalist – recent articles have included buying and selling old cannon [he did] and collecting ancient arms and armour [he does].
He is currently working on another book about the Second World War...
“Rogue Male” is available at good bookshops and by digital download, including Kindle.
Roger Field and Hodder & Stoughton, the publishers, have kindly supplied the following for World of Tanks players:
A fantastic, large, limited edition print inscribed to the winner (if they so wish) and signed by both Roger and David Pentland, the artist, of Roger in action on Wireless Ridge in the Falklands. This is a truly unique prize: the author of Rogue Male signing a print of him fighting in a Scimitar.
Battle for Wireless Ridge, Falklands, 13th June 1982 by David Pentland.
A signed copy of “Rogue Male” (in English) together with a postcard (15 x 10.5 cm), signed by Roger, of the above print.
To be in with a chance of winning simply answer the following question:
Send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org, please ensure you write Challenger Rogue Male Competition in the subject heading, otherwise your entry will be null and void. The winners will be selected at random. The first name drawn with the correct answer will receive the print and the next will receive a signed copy of “Rogue Male” and a signed postcard of the print.
The closing date for submissions will be Friday 5th April 2013, no entries will be accepted after this date. The winners will be notified no later than Friday 12th April 2013.
Wargaming’s decision as to who are the winners is final and they will not engage in any further correspondence.