British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

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Larso
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British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 02 Oct 2010 01:43

‘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, though this gives a fascinating insight into him and to the men of his time and class. Recommended. 3 stars

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 02 Oct 2010 01:47

And another I prepared earlier.....

'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, an armoured 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 therafter 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 it's aim until saved by a section of Typhoons, whose attack leaves the Tiger on it's side and minus it's 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 it's detail, honestly informative but without becomming overwrought. I felt it to be a suitable testimony for many men of that generation. I strongly recommend this book to those with an interest in the period and in tank fighting in particular. It also speaks volumes about the England of the day.

Stuart Hills died in 2004. His obituary is posted on Allied Biographical Research.

I have another 2 tanker memoirs so I'll do those next so the four can be easily considered together.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 23 Oct 2010 00:33

‘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 stars.


NB- Bellamy died last year. Some interesting obituaries are here –

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

http://amolrajan.independentminds.livej ... /9709.html

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by JonS » 23 Oct 2010 05:12

"Quartered Safe Out Here" by George MacDonald Fraser (Infantry, Pte and L/Cpl, Burma)
"And No Birds Sang" by Farley Mowat (Infantry, Lt, Sicily and Italy)
"18 Platoon" by Sydney Jary (Infantry, Lt, NWE)
"The Recollections of Rifleman Bowlby" by Alex Bowlby (Infantry, Pte, Italy)

All four are outstanding. They're all quite different, but all outstanding.

Spike Milligan's memoirs (Artillery, Pte and L/Bdr, N Africa and Italy) are also, perhaps surprisingly, very good. There is a fair bit of tall-tale-telling for the sake of a funny story, but he is also quite frank and honest about his experiences, including his breakdown. (Incidentally, Mowat also had a breakdown, and Bowlby came within an ace of one. They, too, are brutally honest about the psychic toll they suffered).

I've also read quite a few artillery memoirs, but they generally haven't been as good. Oh, except for George Blackburn's amazing trilogy.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 24 Oct 2010 02:18

Thanks Jon. I've spent ages looking at what has been published and though I've found quite a few now, you've got one there I never came across! I'll try and put the ones I've found into some sort of organisation and post them in a few days.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by JonS » 28 Oct 2010 02:18

No worries. Bear in mind that Mowat and Blackburn were both in the Canadian Army - I'm not sure how religiously you're sticking to the 'British' part of the thread title :)

You might also want to have a rummage here:
http://www.librarything.com/catalog/JonSowden
If you filter with the <Biography> tag you might find a couple more new-uns.

Regards
Jon

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 28 Oct 2010 11:35

At this stage I'll keep it to British ones, though a few of the Commonwealth accounts look very interesting. I have Mowats and I'm interested in looking at accounts from Italy together at some point. If time allows...

Anyway, the British WW2 memoirs I have found so far are as follows -


Airborne

A Drop Too Many by Major General J. Frost

Devils Own Luck: Pegasus Bridge to the Baltic 1944-45 by Denis Edwards

Men at Arnhem by Geoffrey Powell (Company commander with 156 Parachute Battalion at Oosterbeek during Arnhem. Originally written under the pseudonym of Tom Angus.)


Armour

Armoured Guardsman by Robert Boscawen (1st Armoured Bn Coldstream Gds – Normandy & beyond)

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

By Tank into Normandy by Stuart Hills (Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, 8th Armoured Bde. (Ind))

Troop Leader: A Tank Commander's Story by Bill Bellamy (8th Hussars, 7th Armoured Div)


Artillery

Field of Fire: Diary of a Gunner Officer by Jack Swaab

Milligan's War: The Selected War Memoirs of Spike Milligan (56th heavy regiment – Africa, Italy)


Engineers

Blowing Our Bridges: A Memoir from Dunkirk to Korea Via Normandy by Tony Younger


Infantry

18 Platoon by Sydney Jary(4th Somerset Light Infantry, 43rd Div)

Accidental Warrior: In the Front Line from Normandy to Victory by Geoffrey Picot (mortar Lt - 7th Hampshires, 43rd Div)

Charlie Company: In Service with C Company 2nd Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders 1940-1944 by Peter Cochrane (2nd Battalion Cameron Highlanders - the Western Desert, Eritrea, and Italy)

Impossible Victory: Personal Account of the Battle for the River Po by Brian Harpur

Fear is the Foe: A Footslogger from Normandy to the Rhine by Stanley Whitehouse (51st HL Div)

Fighting Through to Kohima by Michael Lowry (Queens Royal Regt, Burma)

The Perilous Road to Rome & Beyond by Edward Grace (The author fought with the 6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders during the campaigns of 1st Army in Tunisia and in Italy thereafter)

Quartered Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser (Cumbrian Borderers, 17th Division, Burma)

The Recollections of Rifleman Bowlby (Royal Greenjackets Italy)

With the Jocks by Peter White (KOSB with 52nd Lowland Div in Europe)


SAS & Commando

Behind Enemy Lines: The Autobiography of Britain's Most Decorated Living War Hero by Sir Tommy MacPherson

Commando: Memoirs of a Fighting Commando in World War Two by Brigadier John Durnford-Slater

Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy MaClean (SAS in Africa, Commando in Nth Europe)

Fighting with the Commandos by Neil Barber (3 Commando – Sword Beach)

Guardsman and Commando: The War Memoirs of RSM Cyril Feebery DCM (Grenadier Guards, SBS)

Storm from the Sea by Peter Young

I'm sure there are many others.
Last edited by Larso on 29 Oct 2010 06:35, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by JonS » 28 Oct 2010 19:10

Arnhem Drop, Louis Hagen. He was a glider pilot.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 13 Nov 2010 09:17

‘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.
Last edited by Larso on 14 Nov 2010 06:41, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by B Hellqvist » 14 Nov 2010 01:39

JonS wrote:"Quartered Safe Out Here" by George MacDonald Fraser (Infantry, Pte and L/Cpl, Burma)
"And No Birds Sang" by Farley Mowat (Infantry, Lt, Sicily and Italy)
"18 Platoon" by Sydney Jary (Infantry, Lt, NWE)
"The Recollections of Rifleman Bowlby" by Alex Bowlby (Infantry, Pte, Italy)

All four are outstanding. They're all quite different, but all outstanding.
I've read Bowlby's book. Great read indeed! The sometime laxness is surprising.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 24 Dec 2010 01:53

Fear is the Foe by Stanley Whitehouse

Robert Hale, London, 1995. Hardcover, 188 pages.

This is a powerful book. Whitehouse bluffed his way into the army at 16, and only turned 18 during the campaign of 1944. He joined the Ox & Bucks, his father’s old regiment and was with a territorial subsidiary, the 1st Buckinghamshire, a heavy weapons battalion supporting 3rd Infantry Division for the invasion of Normandy. Whitehouse is a Bren gunner and his book opens with the D-day landing on Sword Beach as part of No 6 Beach Group.

Whitehouse is a front line soldier and from the start he writes of what this meant. Even on the way to the beach he saw dead bodies jostling against the landing craft. For the first weeks they are used mainly in reserve but at one point held a crucial line, with MPs positioned behind them ready to shoot if anyone started to break! It is clear there is a firm ‘hand’ in place. MPs capture some deserters at one point and they are forced to conduct their normal frontline duties handcuffed to each other! It is a rough lesson and there are other examples of the no-nonsense British discipline at work.
In July, the battalion is broken up to reinforce other battalions and Whitehouse chose to go to the 1st Black Watch of the 51st Highland Division.

From this point there is a lot of action. Whitehouse encounters SS troops and they prove to be ruthless. There are also encounters with paratroopers in Holland and many other committed German soldiers. Whitehouse is at times a rifleman and a Piat gunner. He is often engaged in battle, inflicts loss & is even involved in an amazing incident of hand-to-hand fighting. There are a host of fascinating encounters, including an astonishing piece of deception by a German group pretending to surrender. There is more hard edged combat here than in most memoirs.

There are many casualties, by the end only a mere handful of D-day originals are left. It was amazing too how many died from ‘friendly’ fire and other mishaps. With so much violent death (the division had over 19,500 casualties in NE Europe), it was not surprising to see the toll this took on the men and the author. After more than 6 months in the front line, his youthful invincibility has evaporated and the feeling that he’d be next grows almost out of control. He writes of the times he considered self inflicting a wound and he started to take note of the methods others used (like exposing a limb during shelling). It is rare and harrowing to read such frank admission of the fear. By the end he is close to a breakdown and he reveals how his mental state impacted on his interactions with others.

I highly recommend this memoir. It was interesting to see that there was a different tone to that found in US examples. The British army was different - tougher in some ways but also, perhaps due to the regimental system able to supply its men better – at least in a personal sense. This is surprising given what we often read about American production power. There are a lot of fascinating stories about combat and Whitehouse is forthcoming with the details. What makes it stand out though is his ongoing and growing battle with fear. It demands a look on that score alone. 4.75 stars

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 30 Mar 2012 13:06

Sixty-four Days of a Normandy Summer by Keith Jones

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.

This 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, his 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 flavor 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 four British tanker memoirs I have read. I’d recommend this book to someone who has already read thoroughly on this campaign or who has a specific interest in armoured operations. 3 stars

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 05 May 2012 12:58

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. 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.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 30 Aug 2012 03:23

Tank Twins: East End Brothers in Arms by Stephen W. Dyson

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 armored 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 the only tank memoir by a loader that I am aware of, 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.
Recommended 3 ½ stars

There's another for the Crocodile Regt - 'In at the Finish' by J. G. Smith

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 13 Oct 2012 00:28

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, with horror of battle also made clear. 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

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