Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

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DocHawkeye
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Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by DocHawkeye » 06 Sep 2015 17:41

The supposed derogatory over the Sherman tank's tendency to catch fire when hit. We know that the Sherman was no more likely to catastrophically "brew up" than any other tank during the war. I'm still curious to know the origins of these terms if anyone knows. I've heard Tommy Cooker was something of a generality for British tanks and not really specific to the Sherman. I've also heard that the term "Ronson" might be an outright fabrication, the company that designed those lighters conspicuously not referring to itself under the Ronson name until post-war. I don't have sources on this thought. Can anyone comment on where the titles emerged from and if there is written evidence to show that the Germans used these terms *during* the war?

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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by Laurence Strong » 06 Sep 2015 19:37

1931 Ronson advertisement......


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ChristopherPerrien
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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by ChristopherPerrien » 06 Sep 2015 23:01

Another Ronson ad from 1929( New Yorker-American and Spanish editions) has the slogan “ A Ronson lights every time”. This is the only known pre-end of war slogan that matches :roll: up with derogatory Sherman nick-names , for its chance of catching on fire. Which matched :roll: with most other tanks in the war.

I forget the actual percentages, something like 10%(or less)of all WWII tanks burned when penetrated(this goes up with multiple penetrations of course). However the later war Sherman's had near , if not the lowest chance of catching fire, given their lower and wet storage of ammo.

Another thing that may have affected why Shermans were considered to "brew-up" a lot of times , was simply they were the most numerous tank on the UK-US side, or to the German side FTM, plus the Germans had a general rule to keep firing at a tank until it caught fire and/or it was certain the tank was "knocked-out". More soldiers would have seen a burning Sherman, if any burning tank at all, in the West.

As to other "proof's" of the slogan matching :roll: the years of the war, I want to say one of Bill Mauldin's cartoons "might" have alluded to the Ronson/lighter tank joke in a back handed way, one time. I can't get to my Bill Mauldin book(s) to check on this though.
Last edited by ChristopherPerrien on 06 Sep 2015 23:58, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by ChristopherPerrien » 06 Sep 2015 23:30

As to "Tommy Cooker", this was a rather poor performing ration's cooker from WWI , and the name stuck to any British ration cooker/heater. There is a good chance it was used in an off-hand way to describe even the first tanks of WWI, after some British soldier(s) saw a tank explode or burn. And them not wanting to assigned be any tank subsequently.

I cannot recall any accounts to this effect , however I feel it is more probable, than not.

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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by ChristopherPerrien » 06 Sep 2015 23:52

Note 3: The term "Ronson" to describe the Sherman or some other tank "may" have been included in a high level British Army communication between FM Montgomery and staff, and a statement by Montgomery was distributed to counter this anti-moral nickname and poor Allied tank performance compared to German tanks.. These can be found on the net , somewhere. I will look later if someone doesn't post it first. No time to dig currently.

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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by Sheldrake » 07 Sep 2015 08:29

"Feeding Tommy" - (Robertshaw & RLC Museum, 2013) defines Tommy cooker as a WW1 term for a "tin solid fuel cooker either privately purchased or issued when no other means of for cooking was available" Private purchase varied from little primus stoves to a candle in half a tin. During WW2 soldiers had much wider access to petrol. I understand the term became associated with a tin can filled with petrol soaked sand. This technique was in use well after WW2.

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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by ChristopherPerrien » 07 Sep 2015 12:24

Yes it was , We were still using Mogas (petrol) in a 5 gallon paint can or trash can with dirt/sand in it, in 1990. For heat, not so much for cooking , cept for coffee. We didn't call them "Tommy Cooker's". "Fire Cans" IIRC. Which is funny since "fire cans" were also used to fight fires too, and as ash trays/butt cans.

Tanks were sometimes called "Flaming coffins" or "Death traps" as far derogatory names when I was in. "Death Machine" is a nice or bad nickname, depending how you look at it. I liked that one for the M1,even named my tank that. Whispering Death (for the M1) is nice too. You could literally sneak up on people with an M1 tank. (Hopefully not running over friendly's)

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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by Sheldrake » 08 Sep 2015 18:41

Five gallon oil (OMD 40) cans supported on a frame over a tank exhaust can generate industrial quantities of hot water after a move - and then as a as hot water tank for a shower. I have also seen them used as thunder-boxes to cover the hole in the ground.

My recollection was using a 10 oz tin from a composite ration pack to boil a couple of pints of water in a few minutes. It was more of a historic curiosity than a necessity, British AFVs came fitted with decent boiling vessels/ deep fat fryers for British essentials - tea and Chips...

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Don Juan
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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by Don Juan » 13 Sep 2015 13:34

The only time I have seen Tommy Cooker in reference to a tank, is a report from Tunisia in which the Valentine is referred to as a "Tommy Cooker".

This was because of the heat that used to build up in its cramped interior, rather than any tendency to brew up.
"The demonstration, as a demonstration, was a failure. The sunshield would not fit the tank. Altogether it was rather typically Middle Easty."
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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by ChristopherPerrien » 13 Sep 2015 14:05

Don Juan wrote:The only time I have seen Tommy Cooker in reference to a tank, is a report from Tunisia in which the Valentine is referred to as a "Tommy Cooker".

This was because of the heat that used to build up in its cramped interior, rather than any tendency to brew up.
Nice and quite true for all tanks in the heat. Reminds me of other M1 nicknames "Million dollar Hotplate" and "63 ton hotplate", more because you could heat food and make coffee on the exhaust grill(jet engine) , but they were also real hot in the summer. We had an ammo temp gauge, inside of the turret could easy hit 140+ degrees F. Really fun when wearing an NBC suit+gas-mask on top of uniform/coveralls. Thank God for turret blowers. The turbine was fabulous in winter and rain though. Stopping for a few minute on maneuvers in freezing rain/snow , you would have to check behind the tank for "gypsies". In less than five minutes you'd have 10-20 infantry behind the tank getting warm , making coffee, cooking food, even hanging up clothes lines with wet clothes drying them out.

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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by DocHawkeye » 14 Sep 2015 15:24

So the term was in use during the war. I thought it had been some kind of post-war invention of the infamous Prussian Officer Corp going about their usual butt covering and blame displacement.
ChristopherPerrien wrote:
I forget the actual percentages, something like 10%(or less)of all WWII tanks burned when penetrated(this goes up with multiple penetrations of course). However the later war Sherman's had near , if not the lowest chance of catching fire, given their lower and wet storage of ammo.

Another thing that may have affected why Shermans were considered to "brew-up" a lot of times , was simply they were the most numerous tank on the UK-US side, or to the German side FTM, plus the Germans had a general rule to keep firing at a tank until it caught fire and/or it was certain the tank was "knocked-out". More soldiers would have seen a burning Sherman, if any burning tank at all, in the West.
This probably had a lot to do with the Sherman's internal volume. The Sherman was a big tank and (relatively) spacious so hits were more likely to miss critical spots and shaped charges were slightly less effective. Then their is much ado about its crude "wet" ammo storage, which probably no small contribution either. Smaller tanks have to pack everything, including ammo, tighter. I don't know where I read it but supposedly the Panzer IV had a reputation in the German Army for being a notorious fire cracker. Probably not much more so than any other tank, but the troops usually tend to view their own equipment with cynicism and remain convinced the enemy has better stuff and more of it.

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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by Michael Kenny » 14 Sep 2015 17:41

DocHawkeye wrote:So the term was in use during the war. I thought it had been some kind of post-war invention of the infamous Prussian Officer Corp going about their usual butt covering and blame displacement.
There is no doubt the phrase' Tommy Cooker' was in use and known to both British and German soldiers but it is a corruption of the original meaning to transfer it to tanks .
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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by Chepicoro » 06 Mar 2016 22:31

Ohh well I was directed to this thread as the "source" or "proof" that the nicknames Ronson or Tommy Cooker were inventions of postwar veterans and historians trying to destroy the reputation of american sherman tank for a strange reason.

As usual there is no proof or source.

About the nickname "Tommy Cooker", you could find an example in the transcription of the British parliament.

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/ just search for Tommy Cooker.

HC Deb 13 March 1945 vol 409 cc95-202
It has been in all the newspapers that the German name for "the admirable Shermans," is the "Tommy Cooker."

Now about "Ronson" the 1929 advertisement http://www.amazon.com/Ronson-cigarette- ... B00LNHDO3E

The company itself http://www.ronson.com/en/index.php click on "history"

And dozens and dozens of testimonies...

As a bonus the nickname for the M3 Lee "coffin for seven" or "der sarg der sieben", first paragraph seven row.

Image

*** the inflammability of american tanks was noted by allies and enemies, however by the end of the war likely were the safest tanks.

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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by Pips » 07 Mar 2016 00:59

The whole topic of inflammable tanks is an interesting one.

For some reason the Sherman was considered to be prone to bursting into flames. Just read any war memoir (especially British) and that issue plays greatly on tankers mind. 'By Tank Into Normandy' comes to mind, as does 'By Tank: D to VE Days' and that wonderful book 'Jake Wardrop's Diary: A Tank Regiment Sergeant's Story'.

Yet the risk of fire is hardly mentioned in Greenwood's excellent 'D-Day to Victory: The Diaries of a British Tank Commander.' Seems Churchill tanks were not prone to fire?

I haven't actually read any US memoir's on tanks, so can't comment. But perhaps, given the Sherman was the only tank (in great numbers) available to them they didn't have anything to compare it to? Certainly the Brits did with their multitude of various tanks.

Yet fire must have been an issue for the Sherman. Otherwise why go to the trouble of developing the 'wet storage' system, which from all accounts helped greatly?

And given that only the Soviets fielded diesel tanks, shouldn't the German's also have had problems with flammable tanks eg Mk.III, Mk.IV Stug etc?

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Re: Origin of the terms "Tommy Cooker" and "Ronsons"

Post by Nickdfresh » 07 Mar 2016 17:48

Part of the issue is that Allied tanks were usually more exposed and on the offensive, so of course they were going to suffer higher casualties. I think this had been wholly exaggerated but I think the actual numbers were about a 2:1 kill ratio in favor of German panzers over the Shermans. So, yes there was an issue with poor ammo stowage in which wet stowage alleviated, but I think much of the gallows humor of "Ronsons" and whatnot simply comes from Normandy where open fields in the North, defended by heavy concentrations of panzers and tank destroyers, and the bocage in the South of France simply meant the Allies were going to take higher losses no matter what...

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