Saturday, February 25, 2006
Charlie 4 is not answering my signals
Photo shows: German propaganda leaflet shelled over our lines the day after Roosevelt died
Every time I say to myself ‘This really has to be the last story you’re going to submit’ up pops another vivid memory of my time with the 4th QOH and I hurry to my computer to get it down on file.
This particular memory was not recorded in my personal wartime diary but subsequent reference to the Regimental Diaries of the period in question point to April 13th 1945 as being the most likely day on which the events took place.
As I have pointed out elsewhere in "Joining the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars" (A2310003) one of the Squadron Sergeant Major’s jobs in the armoured column was to find and shepherd any 'lost sheep' back to the Sqdrn’s lines. At daybreak on every morning that the 1st Armoured Brigade column moved off, Control Station at RHQ would ask everyone on the net to ‘Report my signals’. This would be followed immediately by each station on the net in turn reporting the signal strength at which they were receiving Control, usually strength 4 to 5 out of a possible 5. During the day, as things hotted up, Control would not bother to ask for signal strengths unless they were having problems in calling up a station.
On this particular day, after about an hour of action, one of our Sherman Kangaroos (Infantry carrying tanks) had failed to respond to Control’s signals and Busty Thomas (on who’s Stuart tank I was wireless operator) was ordered to find out what had happened.
The Stuart M3 tank, unofficially and affectionately known as a ‘Honey’, had been my first surprise when I joined the 4th QOH.
During its glory days in the 8th Army desert campaign it had possessed a turret and a 37 mm gun. Now it had been ignominiously stripped of its ‘heavy’ armament and by removing its turret had been made into a glorified recce vehicle, not unlike its counterpart, the Bren Gun Carrier.
Anyway, our Kangaroos were carrying infantry of the London Irish Rifles who would be dropped off nearer the Santerno bridgehead where they would then be called upon to perform whatever the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry) had been lumbered with.
The tank that was not responding, lets call him Charlie 4, as I can’t remember his actual call sign, would have been carrying at least a troop of the LIRs and we started scanning our surroundings to see if we could spot the culprit. It seemed like only minutes before we saw this lone tank in the middle of a field to our left.
Busty told Hewie to pull up alongside the stranded vehicle, which was soon accomplished. Because of the difference in size of our Stuart and the Kangaroo I was reminded of a tender pulling alongside a destroyer but was soon pulled out of my daydream when Busty said to me ‘Have a shufti and see what’s happened to them’.
I clambered up one of the series of metal rungs, placed there for the benefit of the infantry and then, steeling myself for what was to come, looked down into the well of the tank.
The interior was thankfully empty of troops or corpses but was awash with the evidence of being hit by an air-burst. The worst sight was the 19 set that was smeared with unmentionable pieces of flesh and I offered up an unsaid prayer for whichever operator had been standing there at the time.
I slid back down to our own tank and reported what I’d seen. I remember Busty saying rather mischievously to Hewie ‘Do you want to take a look?‘ and was pleased to hear a vehement ‘No thanks!’ in reply.
We quickly rejoined the Squadron and Busty reported back to Control to say that the Charlie 4 was now permanently off the air.
I don’t remember ever learning at the time what had happened to unlucky Charlie 4, but last week, fifty-nine years after the event, I had another look at the Regimental Diaries for that day and noted the following item:
“At first the advance was rapid but later Kangaroos met many ditches which slowed them down considerably. A number of POW were taken. Own casualties one NCO killed and two wounded. The Sqn was subjected to very heavy shell and mortar fire during the whole day.”
The day before, on April 12th, Roosevelt had died and the Jerries lost no time in shelling over propaganda leaflets that made capital of this point.