Operational Accounts of the 41/47RTR

47th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment

Regimental Story Subsidiary to War Diary

Operation Lightfoot 23-28 October 1942

Lieutenant Colonel G Parkes DSO Commanding Officer

23rd October 1942. At 2150 hours the battalion (47 RTR) moved off from its Assembly Area, with orders to follow (codename) 'Boat Track' up to and through the minefield. Brigade (24th Armoured Brigade) orders and information were issued complete down to tank crews, the outline of the orders being that the attack was to be in three phase’s.

l. The making of a bridgehead through the minefield, in which we should take no part.

2. The move to the regulating station on Springbok Road,

3. Our move through the minefield and bridgehead to take up position on the western side.

The approach march went smoothly, although about 90 minutes late owing to the slowness of the lOth Armoured Division. Throughout operations, centre lines were good and very easy to follow.

October 24th At Springbok Road, the Brigadier (Brigadier A G Kenchington) told Officer Commanding 'C' Squadron (who were leading) to halt at the head of his column level with the lOth Armoured Division's Headquarters when they fanned out. After a further halt, the order to advance was given and the unit (47 RTR) proceeded through the minefield.

In the second minefield, 'C' Squadron found themselves passing through the wheeled vehicles of the 8th Armoured Brigade, which were halted. This information was passed back and 'C' Squadron was ordered to halt. There was no particular shelling at the time and, after a short pause, we were ordered to advance again. During the interval the 8th Armoured Brigade appeared to be slowly working forward.

On arrival at the gap on the edge of the third minefield, an officer approached the Officer Commanding 'C' Squadron and mentioned the fact that a regiment, which he believed to be the Sherwood Rangers (8th Armoured Brigade), had checked in the middle of the minefield. He could not understand why. Officer Commanding 'C' Squadron asked permission from Lieutenant Colonel Parkes to proceed through the minefield, but was told to wait. This delay prevented a further advance, as the light rapidly improved and the regiment again began to come back through the minefield.

Instructions came from 24th Armoured Brigade to shake out, but this was nearly impossible owing to the congestion of vehicles and the dust caused by shells and the movement of vehicles. When we had managed to shake out, we advanced a few yards, but were told that the 8th Armoured Brigade was held up by enemy 88mm anti-tank guns or Mark IV Specials (tanks) hull-down some 2000 yards ahead.

'A' Squadron went hull-down on the ridge left of the 8th Armoured Brigade. Shortly afterwards they were withdrawn to guard the northern flank, and ran on to subsidiary minefields coming from the third minefield, and this pinned them down for the rest of the day, as the sappers (Royal Engineers) were unable to clear a passage up to the ridge in daylight.

We remained on the low ground all day, 'B' Squadron occasionally going up in small packets to the ridge, where the shooting was indiscriminate and uncontrolled, since few targets were visible except transport out of machine-gun range. A great deal of 75mm ammunition was wasted. Our battalion fired very few rounds. Heavy shelling continued throughout the day.

'B' Squadron suffered some casualties: Sergeant Adams, Troop Sergeant of Number 5 Troop, was killed by high explosive which struck the outside of the turret. Also when attempting to disperse in the morning, 'Bacchus' (Major Callan's tank) had run onto a minefield and damage was caused to its tracks. This tank rejoined the Squadron about 1430 hours. In the meantime, Major Callan commanded the squadron from 'Betty', later changing to one of Number 5 Troop's tanks. 'Boomerang' (Number 8 Troop) definitely destroyed one tank in the afternoon, several tanks of this troop obtaining other hits on mixed targets. The Regimental Headquarters' Crusader (tank) was damaged early on in the morning and did not catch up with the Regiment until the following day.

At 1700 hours we drew back for little over a mile for replenishment and a quick brew up. Just after we had finished this, we were ordered to follow in line ahead to a short line about ¾ mile to the north, where orders would be issued for a night attack. Orders were issued here shortly after we arrived, we were to follow in line ahead through the minefield, and then spread out with 41 RTR on our right and the 8th Armoured Brigade on our left, taking up positions on (codename) 'Pierson' ready to hold off an attack from first light.

Meanwhile 6 Field Squadron (lOth Armoured Division Royal Engineers) were carrying out a reconnaissance to find an alternative route for 41 RTR and ourselves on the right of the 8th Armoured Brigade. We sent out a reconnaissance party under Captain Crinks to try to connect them, but this was not successful. The DAPM (Divisional Assistant Provost Marshal) was also unable to find 6 Field Squadron, and although we were due to move at 1830 hours, at this hour we did not know where the gap in the minefield was, or the whereabouts of Officer Commanding 6th Field Squadron (Major B L L A Collins RE), whom we were trying to contact.

The night of 24th/25th October. Whilst we were waiting for this information, bombing and shellfire forced us to disperse to 30 yard intervals. Shortly after this a large fire was started less than 40 yards from Regimental Headquarters and the Adjutant came round to the tanks ordering them to disperse further. We scattered immediately and, in the movement, perfect formation was lost. Most of the squadrons were together, and took up positions facing the enemy behind the minefield, waiting for an attack which might develop, since we were warned at this point by Lieutenant Fulton, who went round the tanks in his scout car, with the information that the New Zealanders were coming back through the minefield, followed by the enemy infantry and possibly two Mark IVs (tanks).

Shortly after this, Lieutenant Fulton's scout car and two tanks ran on to the mines only 15 yards in front of our line of tanks, this minefield was unmarked and it was fortunate that the whole line stopped short of the field. Not only were our tanks firing small-arms ammunition anti-aircraft at flares and 'planes at impossible ranges, with no chance of hitting them (which was responsible for the continued attention we received from bombers) but tanks behind us were firing co-axial Browning machine guns over the minefields where our own Royal Engineers were working. This was equally ineffective, and though bombing and shellfire were heavy, attempts to find the rest of our squadrons in this line, were made more dangerous by these gentlemen than the enemy.

Lieutenant Colonel Parkes give orders over the wireless for this firing to cease, but other battalions around us continued firing for some time. Instructions had actually been given that in the minefield all gun flashes were to be engaged by all possible guns, but it was not apparently understood that this was not to commence until we started to advance through the further minefield. Men and vehicles were seen in front of us, and on this, as on many other occasions, squadrons could not find out whether these were enemy or our own troops.

The Signals Officer, in our rear-link tank, was out of touch with the Commanding Officer in this confusion for nearly two hours, and had to pass orders over the regimental radio net, both to shake out and for 'A' and 'B' Squadrons to go forward to cover the right flank of the minefield, where 6 Field Squadron were working; and where enemy tanks were reported to have broken through.

This emphasised, as we were to find out later, how essential it is for the rear-link and the Commanding Officer s tank to remain close together, and in constant radio touch whatever the circumstances. In theory, this was to have been the case, but these radio sets were often left unattended, especially when orders were being given out and Regimental Headquarters personnel were at Brigade or with squadrons. It also showed that the spare rear-link must be fully conversant with the situation and listening the whole time, both on 'A' and 'B' sets. This spare rear-link set gave a great deal of trouble, chiefly owing to batteries, and was never in a position to be of any assistance when it was required.

At this point, the Medical Officer, Captain O'Donnell (Royal Army Medical Corps), who had the only scout car available, went out on a farther reconnaissance, to make contact with 6 Field Squadron. His scout car ran over two mines, wrecking the car and injuring Captain O'Donnell.The Commanding Officer pressed Brigade Headquarters to let us go through one of the 8th Armoured Brigade’s gaps since it was not pointed out that they had gone through in two places, but this was not agreed to, and we waited until 0315 hours for 6 Field Squadron to make and mark a gap through the minefield for 41 RTR and 47 RTR.

25th October. Someone on the Brigade net was heard discussing 6 Field Squadron in front whom they took to be the enemy, and were about to mop-up, although the Command Net had been warned several times about 6 Field Squadron's presence. The squadrons were rallied and formed into line ahead, passing through the gap in the minefield, followed by 41 RTR. One or two anti tank guns opened up in the minefield, but ceased fire on being engaged by a considerable volume of small-arms fire. When we were right through the minefield, we slowed down to permit 41 RTR to come up on our right, and after a further 200 to 300 yards, we came across three blazing German tanks left by 8th Armoured Brigade, and in slight confusion in the dark, tanks were firing through us, at men around the blazing tanks.

The Battalion then took up a position with 'A' Squadron to the left on the high ground in (map reference) square 867290 and to their right and mixed with them 'B' and 'C' Squadrons. Regimental Headquarters were in the basin on the right flank, in (map reference) 867291. At about 500 yards to the west, there were a number of burning tanks, mostly our own, and south of them, some more (about 12) mostly German, which appeared to be derelict.

On the forward slope of the ridge we were holding, 'C' Squadron observed, but were unable to destroy, several 5Omm guns facing north-west, not manned and not neutralised. This shows how important it is to have a plan for destroying all guns as soon as they are located; since it is almost certain that the gunners were lying in their trenches and were unhurt. Some of our tanks began firing at the burning tanks to the front, and wireless orders were issued not to waste ammunition on these tanks. Shortly afterwards fire came in from the tanks to the south of those which were burning. From our later experience, these must have been anti tank guns by the tanks. However we did not know this, and wasted a certain amount of armour-piercing ammunition. We set fire to two tanks, which stopped the fire from the guns by them, and after a while all fire ceased from this area.

Anti-tank guns on the ground then engaged us from the northwest; they were also silenced after a short while by high explosive and Browning machine gun fire from the tanks. The high explosive shooting at this time was bad. Tanks were not registering on and sticking to targets, nor were they making sure before even engaging a target, that another tank was not already registering on it. After these targets had been destroyed, nothing further engaged us until heavy artillery fire by 150mm and 2l0mm guns was brought down. We could see the gun flashes, which were some 4,500 yards away, and were unable to do anything about it ourselves. The fire was sustained and accurate, and caused some casualties, one Regimental Headquarters Crusader being destroyed and the driver killed, one 'C' Squadron Crusader and two 'B' Squadron Shermans being put out of action, and one tank commander being killed. Almost all our tanks received external damage from shrapnel.

We moved round in the area, and continual requests for counter-battery artillery were sent to Brigade Headquarters by 41 RTR, and ourselves this did not materialise and shelling continued unchecked. We were told that artillery was on the way but this did not appear. At this point we were told that it was important we should keep in touch with the people on our right, and also asked if we required further assistance. Further, Brigade Headquarters did not agree with our position

We gave the following situation report: - "Movement of dust on ridge two miles to our right, suggest movement of transport to west or south-west. Movement on main ridge 3 miles to front suggests similar movement. Enemy anti-tank guns and infantry appear to have come up from the rear, and our own infantry and anti-tank, who have just come up from the forward western slope, are being shelled." Our position was checked and was definitely as given. We were not in touch with the lst Armoured Division on our right, being separated by at least 1 mile of minefields.

Brigade Headquarters suggested that the time was ripe for mopping-up the enemy in this area, to which Lieutenant Colonel Parkes replied that this was definitely not a job for tanks, owing to uncharted minefields and extremely poor visibility due to the dust which had been blown up and a slight haze.

We also reported a group of some twenty tanks from the southwest, which would prove a suitable RAF target. These tanks were moving up and down the ridge at a range of some 3,000 yards and drawing some quite ineffective fire from our own tanks, which only wasted ammunition. It was constantly stressed by Lieutenant Colonel Parkes that we were not in touch with the unit on our right and a squadron of 45 RTR was to be sent up to try to bridge this gap. These instructions were subsequently cancelled.

At approximately 1520 hours, a warning came from Brigade Headquarters that 25 tanks were attacking on a compass bearing of 120 degrees. The first signs of this attack were the appearance of a concentration of tanks and trucks on the ridge on our right in front of 41 RTR. They were well out of our range and we held our fire. Tanks then appeared in front of us and to our right, mostly at 3,000 yards, and several seemed to come close down to about 2,000 yards, but withdrew when engaged. For the rest of the afternoon these tanks demonstrated in front of us, but Lieutenant Colonel Parkes held his position, and, when they came near enough, they were engaged and a number hit. Throughout this action, Lieutenant Colonel Parkes was seen walking from tank to another with his hands in his pockets, quite unconcerned, though machine-gun fire was frequently brought down on us. This heartened us not a little in our first day of real action. At 2,000 yards and a little over, our 75's (75mm tank main guns) were knocking out some of these tanks, and the shooting of the whole Battalion seemed to be very accurate.

As the sun was almost setting the enemy saw that we were not going to be drawn onto them. They closed to about 1,800 yards and, with the sun behind them, commenced firing heavily on us; at the same time a screen of anti-tank guns reviled themselves in front of the enemy tanks. A number of our tanks were hit, but at this range, no damage whatsoever was done, and there was little doubt that had we attempted to mop-up this body in front, the mopping up would not have been done by us. When it was too dark to see more than a few hundred yards, enemy anti-tank guns continued on what must have been targets picked out in daylight, but not engaged until dusk had fallen, emphasising the necessity for a slight change in position at dusk.

The only total loss to us during the day was the Regimental Headquarters Crusader mentioned above. The shooting throughout the day had been quite good, and most tanks could claim hits on a considerable number of targets. The following targets were seen to be destroyed by the crew in each case.

Headquarters Sherman 'Dolores' destroyed two anti-tank guns, the ammunition by the guns being seen to explode in both cases.

'Boomerang' (Number 8 Troop) claims two enemy tanks.

'Bellepheron' and 'Bruiser' were the damaged 'B' Squadron tanks.

These disabled tanks were towed back some 500 yards where they remained until dusk. Meanwhile the third tank of Number 7 Troop 'Beau Geste' continued in the action. After dusk 'Bellepheron' and 'Bruiser' were towed further back behind the ridge by two other tanks and, during the night, the track of 'Bruiser' was repaired. It was then possible for 'Bruiser' to tow 'Bellepheron' to the unit fitters where it remained until the afternoon of Tuesday the 27th. It was then taken right back by tank transporter.

'Boomerang' received a hit with armour piercing through the back bogie wheel during the afternoon, but continued in the action and came out with the rest of the squadron at night.

'Bacchus' (Major Callan's tank) claimed two enemy armoured fighting vehicles and one staff-car destroyed, and 'Betty' claims two transports destroyed.

'Aphrodite' claims two anti-tank guns.

'Adaptable III' destroyed two anti-tank guns which were neither dug-in nor camouflaged, only 900 yards from our position. The crews of these guns were also killed with Browning machine gun fire. This tank also disabled a Mark III or IV tank, which withdrew in difficulty. Four tanks then simultaneously fired high explosive into a gun, which opened on this tank from under 50 yards. This gun had been sitting pointing at us, manned apparently by New Zealand troops, throughout the afternoon and opened fire when enemy guns commenced firing at us.

The Regiment was then ordered to follow 41 RTR back through the minefield. Lieutenant Colonel Parkes stated that he was perfectly happy where he was and wished to stay. 41 RTR agreed with this, but subsequently orders came to withdraw.

As it became dark, the Battalion formed up behind the ridge in line ahead to retire through the minefield. 'A' Squadron were leading and, as they were approaching the minefield, the leading tank of Number 1 Troop stalled its engine and was unable to re-start. By the time it had been started by towing, the Headquarters tanks ahead had been lost and, having been told that there was only one gap in the minefield, the remaining tanks passed through the first gap, which they found. About two miles down this track, they found 41 RTR who appeared to have made the same mistake.

26th October 1942, At this point, two New Zealanders informed us that a company of German infantry and two Mark IV's had rounded up a complete company of theirs, and were in the minefield to our right. We waited behind 41 RTR until they ascertained the position of our Battalion and eventually followed then down the track to our own B1 Echelon (logistic elements), which we reached about 0500 hours. We were replenished with fuel and ammunition and breakfasted. The Commanding Officer found us here, and gave orders to follow behind Regimental Headquarters as they came past.

Regimental Headquarters meanwhile, after losing contact with the bulk of 'A' and 'B' Squadrons, had gone on its original route down a track to the south of that taken by the rest of the Battalion and received the same information about the German tanks. They were fired on here by what appeared to be 6-pounder anti-tank guns and halted. This ceased after a few minutes when Lieutenant Colonel Parkes and the Intelligence Officer went to the Brigade Headquarters for orders. About 0430 hours Regimental Headquarters formed up with four tanks of 'A' Squadron which had made contact with them, and about three Crusaders; there were also one or two tanks of 'B' Squadron.

The Commanding Officer then led Regimental Headquarters past B1 Echelon and 'A' and 'B' Squadrons joined in with them about 0815 hours. Our information was that we were going north up (codename) 'Star Track' to cover the left flank of the lst Armoured Division. Shortly after the Battalion had begun to go up 'Star Track', there was a halt for further orders, and 47 RTR were in reserve and could brew up and rest. Although Lieutenant Colonel Parkes was obviously exhausted, he ordered the Adjutant and rear link to rest whilst he remained with Regimental Headquarters.

We moved from here about 1600 hours, halting eventually further west up 'Star Track'. We were surrounded by our own guns, which were being attacked, and bombs and shells were falling around the forward tanks. A number of tanks fired .50 Browning machine-guns on some very low-flying aircraft. When it was obvious that we were not moving that night, Major Ward went for orders about 2100 hours. Lieutenant Colonel Parkes was with us, but obviously ill and had been ordered back (Lieutenant Colonel Parkes DSO was evacuated to an advanced dressing station were he was killed by enemy shellfire whilst resting in a slit trench). There was shelling and a heavy barrage of our own at about 1200 hours. Colonel Sheppard (Colonel R B Sheppard DSO Deputy-Commander 24th Armoured Brigade) told us the situation and to hold the DAPM if he came along the track as he had further instructions for him.

27th October Major Ward {now acting as Commanding Officer) arrived back and fixed orders for 0415 hours next morning. This was subsequently changed to 0515 hours, as he expected to meet the Brigadier for orders or a reconnaissance at 0500 hours. Eventually orders were given out at 0530 hours as follows

Major Ward's Orders for 27.10.42

Enemy appear to be holding part of (codename) 'Snipe' and (codename) 'Woodcock' opposite our own troops Two 88's (German 88mm anti-tank guns) are reported at (map reference) 86602962 and 15 German tanks are reported in this vicinity. 100 German tanks are also reported to the south and southwest. The minefields we are to pass are the last in this position and we should be free from them from now on.

'A' Company of the Argyles and a company of Seaforths (lst Highland Division) are holding positions 'Snipe' and ‘Woodcock’. For some time they have been isolated and are short of food. Be careful not to mistake them for Huns.

We are to hold off an enemy counter-attack by the 100 tanks from the west/south for one day, protecting the left flank of 6th Field Squadron. We shall do that by establishing ourselves in the area of (codename) 'Shield', 'Shield' is from Point 32 – (map reference) 86692936 to Point 34 – (map reference) 86542936. We leave here at 0605 hours.

Order of March: One troop 'C' Squadron (Minefield reconnaissance) Regimental Navigator - Regimental Headquarters - 'A' Squadron - 8 Light Field Ambulance - 'B' Squadron - 'C' Squadron less one troop. We shall move in line ahead to the further end of the last minefield when the troop of Crusaders will rejoin 'C' Squadron.

Route – (codename) 'Star Track' and then south-west just reaching the tip of the kidney-shaped feature (Kidney Ridge) then south-east to Point 32 where we shall take up a hull-down position facing south and west. 'A' Squadron west, 'B' Squadron south. At the end of the last gap, fan out, go like hell, and look out for mines. Bearing 192 degrees for two miles to the objective.

I may send 'C' Squadron west to the 35 ring contour or to the 35 ring contour to the northwest of our position for information about enemy tanks etc. During our advance if smoke is required' ‘A’ Squadron will smoke the west flank, 'B' Squadron the south. We must get onto the objective.

Code Words

Two 88's - ‘Percy;

Point 32 - ‘June;

South 35 rings contour -March.

Northern 35 ring contour - ‘ApriI;

Objective - 'Shield'.

If we succeed in this way, we may have two or three days in which to rest, reorganise and re-equip ourselves, so we must go all out. Fresh Code names were given out and new recognition signals for 27th October. We are late already so be as quick as you can.

(NB: The above are not verbatim but are as near as can be reconstructed from pencilled notes taken down at the time.)

These orders were interrupted by urgent orders from Brigade Headquarters at 0600 hours, to move at once, constantly repeated, and to press on through transport and tanks on the way. It was virtually impossible to move immediately, as the squadrons had scattered the previous evening owing to the shelling and to get away from our own guns. Owing to the lack of time, troop leaders and below had very little information.

'A' Squadron, the leading squadron, were told that they were to follow onto a feature which was on a bearing of 192 degrees from the end of the minefield, and that there were some 88s on the right flank, on account of which we were told to move immediately before it became light. These orders were given at 0610 hours, five minutes after the time laid down to move.

'B' Squadron only had time to get information that they were to follow 'A' Squadron down the track and then follow on a bearing of 19 degrees. They did not know the codenames. The dust was bad and the track ahead almost impossible to see.

The rear-link tank was leading Regimental Headquarters with the navigator and soon became mixed up with 41 RTR. At this stage we did not know who was the leading regiment, or where 41 RTR fitted in, or the whereabouts of 45 RTR, this was to lead to confusion later on.

It was stressed by Brigade that we must make the top of the hill before first light owing to the presence of 88s possibly covering the exits from the minefield. At first light however, we were on top of the hill, since one track went straight over. One of our troops showed 41 RTR round the left of the feature, but the majority followed Regimental Headquarters over the top.

'C' Squadron had provided a troop for minefield reconnaissance ahead, and they reported enemy tanks (about 16 in number) whereupon they withdrew.

There was some confusion as the Battalion moved on due to vague orders to the leading tank and a fork in the lane.

As we came out of the minefield, we were engaged by tanks and guns at about 2,500 yards, slightly west of south. We were moving at the time in line ahead, travelling southeast along the front of the kidney-shaped feature. We turned right and engaged these targets in an irregular line formation. The guns were engaged by high explosive, which was again badly controlled.

After we had been firing for about half an hour, Major Ward issued instructions for the Battalion to advance and occupy the ridge from which the firing was coming. We reported to Brigade heavy shelling from the left and right, and anti-tank gunfire on the right flank.

Orders came to press on to 'Shield' "where safety lay". Major Ward received these orders and again asked for artillery support which both 41 RTR and ourselves had been demanding for some time, since 0700 hours.

At our request 41 RTR, with some assistance from 'B' Squadron, laid down a smoke screen as we advanced. Some of this was falling short amongst us. As we started to go up the ridge among the smoke 'A' Squadron leading, we were fired on from all sides 'A' Squadron quickly received heavy casualties.

T74219 ('Albion') was hit in the rear of the turret by an 88 and the commander killed. The crew attempted to take the tank out of action, when it was hit again and put completely out of action.

‘Defiant’, in which Captain Crinks was travelling, was hit, caught fire, and Captain Crinks and some of the crew were killed.

'Arran' was hit at the same time by a 75mm, which entered the driver's seat from the right.

'Adonis' was hit on both sides, both tracks taken off, and the 75mm gun was put out of action by a direct hit.

'Argenaut' was hit on the right-hand side, three of the crew were killed, and this caught fire.

'Adaptable III' was hit in the right rear and left track and in the rear through the engine. Some of this fire was from as little as 30 yards, but some would appear to have been coming from 88s on our right, warning of whose exact position had been given to regiments.

All the 'A' Squadron tanks were hit by guns, most of which they could not see, and were also under heavy shellfire. They withdrew slightly in an attempt to get in a hull down position. Major Ward then called up and ordered them to move further left.

Lieutenant Fulton, Troop Leader Number 1 Troop, was one of the few officers still in radio contact, Captain Crinks having been killed, Captain Oliver's wireless being out of action, and two of the other three troop leaders also having been put out of action. Lieutenant Fulton reported the squadron's casualties and Major Ward ordered 'B' Squadron to take up the attack. Lt Fulton reported that he was uneasy about his right flank.

Major Callan (Commanding 'B' Squadron) himself advanced and took up a position left and forward of 'A' Squadron and held this position as he attempted to bet his squadron up there.

Lieutenant Fulton gives the following account of this; "I moved to the left and heard Major Callan calling his squadron together. He had great difficulty in rallying them and moved over the ridge minus four or five (tanks). I could hear him calling them, and could see him waving a red flag. I could also see the tank he was calling on my Left and moved across to them and led them through behind him. "

"Major Callan had by this time advanced through enemy small anti-tank guns, and was giving magnificent encouragement calling up and saying 'Come through behind me, the bastards are packing in, it’s easy.' He was then hit on the turret. He reported this on the wireless and the next I saw of him was on the back of his tank waving us on with his red flag. He was hit again with high explosive and killed. Major Callan, by his cheerful calls on the air, inspired all of us to batter through, and in my opinion, the credit for all the prisoners taken were due to him. "

At this time, nearly all the tanks were out of action, and a cloud of dust obscured all the area. Three tanks were burning and we could not see any targets and withdrew to behind the kidney-shaped feature. Small parties of enemy and anti-tank guns in trenches infested the area through which Major Callan had led the tanks, which were not visible until within a few yards distance. Large parties of Germans surrendered in this area and were sent back towards our lines. It was impossible to remove their arms and any documents owing to heavy shellfire. Some of these were getting back into trenches and opening fire. Most of them had a white flag handy, which was put up when tanks got too near to them. Again it can be seen that these guns should have been destroyed immediately.

'B' Squadron were then hit from all sides in the same way as 'A' Squadron had been just previously.

'Bacchus' (Major Callan's tank) was hit as already described.

'Boanerges' was hit and caught fire.

'Cadiz' was hit in the engines and the turret holed, and Captain Bliss wounded. (This tank was taken out of action on one engine). It was hit by a 50mm at a range of about 30 yards.

'Buffalo Bill', ‘Badger, 'Blighty', 'Boar', and 'Bruiser' were all hit and put out of action in this area.

About this time, Major Ward was heard to call from 'Allouette' that he was out of action, and that the senior (Regimental) officer must take over. His tank was seen stationary but not on fire. The crew were apparently still inside. Major Ward, Captain Boyton and the rest of the crew are still not accounted for.

The whole of this action was extremely confused. The attached map has been made up as far as possible from the survivors accounts and is not absolutely accurate, but the general course can be seen from the positions of the abandoned tanks which could not be checked from the ground. It was not clear where the minefield ended, and most of the battalion (47 RTR) came through the last portion of the minefield heading almost south, which seems to have added to the confusion in which the majority of tank commanders lost all sense of direction.

Both squadrons went in to attack heavily defended ridges without information or plans of attack, and even without formation in the squadron. Most of the fighting was by individual tanks, and accounts from most of the survivors follow.

'C' Squadron followed 'B' Squadron and, whilst the Sherman squadrons were engaging the enemy tanks, did a reconnaissance of the right flank. They were subsequently pulled in to the left flank, where Major Palmer reported the enemy tanks later mentioned cruising north west.

Eventually they became mixed in a general advance with the Sherman squadrons. Major Palmer s tank ran onto a minefield and he took the Squadron Sergeant Major s tank, whilst a sergeant and driver escorted prisoners back. Major Palmer, Lieutenant Butler and Lieutenant Gillespie, on the left flank, using grenades and tommy-guns, took a number of prisoners and destroyed two or more 50mm guns.

Eyewitness Accounts.

Regimental Headquarters Tank 'Diana' (Rear Link) - Lieutenant A E Hanna says: - "I attended orders on the morning of the 27th and, contrary to usual practice was to lead regimental Headquarters as I had the navigator in my tank. This was undoubtedly responsible for the breakdown in communication since Major Ward was to follow me, on the laid-down course, hut I did not know when he was halted and also, since he eventually followed B' Squadron, we lost touch on the 'B'set. The spare rear link was again off the air. "

"We followed 'A' Squadron up the track but, at a fork, we went to the Left and the majority of A' Squadron had gone to the right. I then found myself mixed up with B' Squadron Headquarters and some tanks of 41 RTR. When we arrived at the top of the hill, enemy tanks were reported to the west, and we took up a hull-down position and fired at various tanks at about 2,000 yards with unobserved results. "

After the enemy tanks had withdrawn, we advanced to the west for about ¼ mile before swinging back onto the original course, since I had called up Major Ward and. said we were not going in the right direction. He ordered me back behind him to line up on the new bearing, when he said he would follow. "

"We then moved off. I reported heavy shelling from the left and right flanks, and anti-tank gunfire from the right. I also reported 20 enemy tanks moving north seen by 'C' Squadron. This was subsequently altered to northwest. "

"At this point, I was still in touch with Major Ward on the 'B' set, but could not find him on the ground. The Adjutant fired a Very light to show me his position but, in the dust, I could not see it. I then lost touch with him on the B' set and, after trying on the regimental net to find out the situation, I made contact with Badger' (Sergeant Parker) on the B' set, but his set was not working, and I could find no more. "

"Since by now the movement was south-east, rather than south, I swung to the east to try and contact Officers Commanding A' or B' Squadrons. I found our tanks mixed up with 41 RTR and, in view of the fact we had been hit several times and my driver told me that the suspension on the right-hand side was badly damaged, I decided to return to the kidney feature where I could see large numbers of tanks, as at this time there was definitely no forward movement of tanks, and a large number were stationary and disabled in this area. "

When I got back here, I found three or four tanks and Officer Commanding 'C' Squadron and was given the information that several tanks were coming from the south-east, and the obvious measure was to remain hull-down where we were. Lieutenant Hlseman OC 5 ` Troop B' squadron told me that Brigade knew the situation, since after being hit the wireless was only working spasmodically. We then pulled back about ¼ mile to reform and fill up. Throughout this, we were shelled heavily and, about 1700 hours, we were sent back along 'Star Track' where the Brigadier met Lieutenant Fulton (OC 1 Troop A' squadron and myself and gave us the task of holding three possible paths through the minefields, with two tanks on each throughout the night. "

"Throughout this action, owing to the fact that I had spent a great deal of time trying to make contact with the regimental net, on the wireless, I was not able to observe clearly the picture on the ground, and lost all my sense of direction in a very short time, although the navigator was able to keep us informed of the general direction, We found a track plate almost completely severed by a 50mm but holding together, although the pin was smashed and the suspension badly smashed up. "

Regimental Headquarters tank 'Dolores' (Intelligence Officer) - Lieutenant Frost says: - "As I had lost touch with Regimental Headquarters tanks. In the minefield, due to a slight collision with the Roya1 Horse Artillery's 'Honey' [tank] in the dust, I crossed the ridge with a troop of 'B' Squadron. When about 600 yards over, I saw Major Ward's tank (Allouette) about 150 yards in front and slightly left, with Diana' about 100 yards to his right rear. Major Ward's tank was stationary and after a few minutes Diana swung sharply left and disappeared in the dust and smoke. I still followed the B' Squadron troop and saw two of their tanks get knocked out, and survivors being carried out on the back of the remaining tank."

"As Major Ward’s tank had still not moved, I carried on bearing slightly right and found myself (I think) with the 2nd Armoured Brigade. After ten minutes search for other tanks in the battalion, I returned to where we had crossed the ridge, and found three A' Squadron tanks, and one B' Squadron tank, and were joined within five minutes by 'Diana' which had apparently come round to this position via our left flank."

'A' Squadron tank 'Adonis' - Trooper Turley (2nd driver) writes: - "We came through the minefield, and joined in the shooting to the right. I saw our gunner get several hits and one armoured car definitely blew up. We then advanced on the right of Lieutenant Warwick, our ' Troop Leader, and came in amongst the gun-pits. We put out two guns with high explosive at about 300 yards. I saw these wrecked myself. We then got a round straight through the barrel of a 75mm gun, as I turned my periscope; I saw a gun slightly behind us at less than 100 yards. I told the gunner - he traversed and killed the crew with Browning machine gun. We were being hit all this time all round by guns and tanks, and by now both tracks were off, and the 75mm gun out of action, so we baled out. None of us were hurt, and we managed to get back to A' Squadron. "

'A' Squadron tank 'Aphrodite' - Captain Oliver writes: - "When we reached the ridge, the shellfire became so intense, and the close Ants (anti-tank guns) were inflicting so much damage, that all tanks started to withdraw under a smoke screen. All sense of direction and formation appeared to be lost at this time; after withdrawing to our original position, a general move westward was started, led by Major Callan, who was continually calling for tanks to come up with him. Most tanks spent time trying to locate him, which was very difficult. We then ran into an area infested by small parties and anti-tank guns in trenches, which were not visible until within a few yards distance. Large parties of Germans surrendered in this area, and were sent back towards our lines. It was impossible to remove their arms and any documents owing to heavy shellfire. Infantry in this area with the tanks would have been extremely helpful. "

'A' Squadron tank 'Adaptable III' - Lieutenant C H Hanna writes: - "We were apparently to move in line-ahead through the minefield. There was some confusion due to vague orders to the leading tanks, and a fork in the lanes. Some of our tanks became involved with 41 RTR, and followed them through, (very easily done in the darkness and dust, which made it impossible to distinguish tanks ahead). 3 and 4 Troops did this, but it actually made little difference, as immediately the squadron advanced to attack we were able to rejoin them as they moved off from lower down the line. "

"As soon as we were through the minefield, we were engaged from the right by tanks and guns. They were too far away to do us any harm, and we had learned our lesson and used very little armour piercing on them, although we engaged some of the anti-tank guns with` high-explosive again this was very badly controlled. We also used our Browning machine-guns, as we tied found the day before that this kept the anti-tank guns quiet when we had not a sufficiently accurate idea of their position to engage with high-explosive."

"After we had been firing for about half an hour, the order came through for the Regiment, with A' Squadron up, to advance and occupy the ridge from which was coming (which was in fact 2nd Battalion The Rifle Brigade's positions). I brought my troop up to the left flank of the squadron and we advanced under a smoke screen, some of which was falling rather short amongst us. As we came up on the ridge, we were under shellfire, and then anti tank guns opened up on us from all around, some at less than 100 yards. Most of the time we did not know what was hitting us. At the same time as we were receiving hits on our front, a shot from the rear removed our right idler and another penetrated the rear of the engines. We managed to recover the tank, but lost touch with the battalion."

"As we came out, we were a target for every gun around, and smoke would have been very useful: (which tanks other than Squadron Headquarters were not carrying) We were using the Browning machine-gun at close range, which put up enough dust to help, when we got a second separated ammunition case. This put the gun out of action, as we had no tool for removing it, and had just used our spare barrel to clear a similar stoppage."

'A' Squadron tank 'Ayr' - Lieutenant Fulton writes: "On the 26th I joined Number 1 Troop of 'A' Squadron. We moved from the junction of (codename) 'Star Track' and Quattara Road up Star Track' and halted until 0545 hours on 27th October 1942. We moved off about 0600 hours and moved through the enemy minefield in line-ahead. On reaching the enemy side of the minefield, we fanned out and engaged enemy AFV, s armoured fighting vehicles and transport for about 20 minutes. Control then called Captain Crinks, and told him to move to right front. He did not reply. The message was repeated, and I answered for him, and we moved off with my Corporal’s tank on my right front. Captain Crinks in Defiant' followed on our left. "

"We passed some KRRs (not KRRC but 2 RB who complained that we had shelled them, but we are sure we did not, as they were not more than 1000 yards from where we had been firing, and our range was then over 2,000 yards. About 500 yard from them, the position of the tanks was Captain Crinks in Defiant' on my left front, myself followed by the rest of the squadron. 'Arran' and Defiant' were hit almost at the same time in front - Lieutenant Warwick (Argenaut) just behind me. The spare driver of Arran' and Corporal Munn (Commander) were blown out of the tank and took cover. 'Defiant' was on fire but still moving in reverse. I could not see the gun or guns, which engaged us, and withdrew about 100 yards to hull-down, to try and spot him. We moved forward a bit to the left and came right on top of a Mark IV Special (German tank}. It was firing across our front. We put three rounds of SAP (armour piercing) through it, and had to withdraw again, but it had ceased firing, and was smoking round the turret ring. Major Ward then called up and told us to go more to the left and carry on. I reported our casualties and Major Ward ordered B' Squadron to take up the attack."

"On our way back, we drew alongside Lieutenant Harre's tank, which had its bogie wheels shot away, and asked him if he wanted to come back. He said he was OK and would not come out although they were being plastered by gunfire (Lieutenant Harre was killed shortly after this meeting}. We were withdrawn at about 1800 hours. A' Squadron tank 'Aphrodite’ claims during this action two anti-tank guns, one Mark 111 Special and 15 men of anti-tank gun crews."

A' Squadron tank ‘Angel' - Lieutenant Withers writes: - "On the morning of 27th October 1942 I was commanding T74283. We advanced behind the Squadron Commander until heavily engaged by 88mm guns, which hit four times but failed to penetrate. We retreated to a position near the Regimental Commander who ordered me to rally the squadron. Endeavouring to reach them, I ran onto a minefield and blew a track off." "After futile attempts to recover the vehicle, we manned the tank as an attack was expected. The tank was, however, penetrated by 88mm (as far as I know) and set on fire. Three of the crew were killed and the tank a total loss. The surviving member, and I evacuated the tank at' about 1600 to 1630 hours. "

'A' Squadron tank 'Albion' T74219 - Lieutenant Withers writes: - "In the morning Corporal Irwin, commanding T74219, advanced behind me. On reaching high ground, the rear of the turret was penetrated by an 88mm gun. The projectile burst and wounded the commander. The commander gave orders to reverse off the exposed ground when another hit fatally wounded the commander. The tank then retired further and the tank commander was evacuated. The tank was again penetrated and put out of action, when the crew evacuated at about 0900 to 0930 hours':

'A' Squadron tank 'Argenaut' - Lieutenant Warwick writes: - "On advancing through the enemy minefield, my squadron was held up by heavy shellfire. We replied to this fire until ordered to advance. We then advanced southwest for almost one mile. During this advance, I was on the right flank of the squadron, and in touch with a battalion of the Rifle Brigade (2nd Battalion), who were holding a position on the slopes of Kidney Hil1. Several of our tanks on my left opened fire on these friends, killing several; I screamed over the air to stop this with little or no effect. "

'I continued my advance covering the right flank of the squadron. Two 88mm guns then opened up and knocked out three tanks almost immediately. This gun was on the right flank and, although several tanks were behind me, none of them registered or attempted to silence it. My co-driver was killed immediately as the right ammunition sponson was hit and exploded. The projectile then ricocheted round the floor of the turret, killing the wireless operator and wounding the gunner. "

"I got the gunner out and bound up his bleeding leg, and borrowed a Bren Gun Carrier to get him to the nearest advance dressing station. On the way, the carrier was hit and he was killed. One of my tanks had the suspension wrecked, and the other a 75mm through each engine. A11 crews were safe. "

"I stayed with anti-tank gunners for the rest of the day and towards dusk, as the enemy advanced, these people knocked out 17 of 35 with four 6-pounders. We advanced with Valentine and Grant tanks leading, followed by Mark IIIs and Mark IVs. On the enemy positions were several screens, obviously put out to represent tanks."

'B' Squadron tank 'Buffalo Bill' - Lieutenant Abram, 6 Troop writes: - "We were travelling along high ground, prior to the attack on (codename) 'Shield' when we received three hits from high-explosive. The last two put out of action the entire electrical system. For the next hour orders had to be shouted to the rest of the crew. We then commenced to swing left to put in the attack on ‘Shield’ and, as we could receive no orders, kept our position relative to the squadron commanders. Our tank was then hit two or three times in rapid succession, and the track on the driver's side was blown off by a mine, the engines cut out completely, owing to the electrical system being out of order, and could not be started again."

"The driver was temporary knocked unconscious, but we managed to bring him round during this time, we were hit another two times. We decided to try to engage the anti-tank guns with high explosive, but discovered that there was a large hole in the barrel of the 75mm gun. We then evacuated the tank, the tank commander, gunner and loader/operator via the cupola and the driver and co-driver via the driver's hatch. The fate of the other 6 Troop tank Barnacle Bill' and crew is not yet known."

5 Troop 'B' Squadron tank 'Blighty' - Lieutenant Hiseman and crew write "Tank knocked out round about 1000 hours on 27th October 1942 whilst putting in an attack with B' Squadron objective (codename) ‘Shield’ We were on the low ground before 'Shield' when the tank was penetrated on the loader’s side by what we thought was a 50mm at very close range. Trooper Keates was fatally wounded in the throat and the Browning and stabiliser box were very badly damaged."

"Lieutenant Hiseman got out of the tank and went across to another tank to direct fire onto the anti-tank gun which had hit us. In the meantime we did all we could for Trooper Keates and Trooper Wright dressed a wound in Trooper Mackay's head. During this time we were hit twice and observed another hole in the gunners side of the tank We then evacuated the tank by the escape hatch and made back to our own lines. "

'B' Squadron tank 'Badger Sergeant Parker writes: - "Tank knocked out about I000 hours on Tuesday October 27th whilst putting in an attack on (codename) 'Shield' with B' Squadron. We were travelling to the left of the troop officer's tank when there was an explosion which' we afterwards discovered had been caused by the track of the tank running over a mine. The tank stopped and, after finding out that Corporal Sutherland and Trooper Wardell were OK, Sergeant Parker asked if the tank could be moved and it was found that it could not."

"We then saw the flash of an anti-tank gun out to the right and engaged the target with high explosive. Whilst engaging the anti-tank gun we were hit on the left five or six times. Immediately after this a flash appeared about 300 yards to our front and we discovered that it was what we considered to be a 37mm anti-tank gun camouflaged by a bivouac. This gun was responsible for shooting off the metal shield to the co-driver's visor. We immediately engaged this gun with high explosive, and it was quite definitely completely destroyed."

"Sergeant Parker then decided that as the two Brownings were out of action and all high explosive had been expended, to evacuate the tank via the escape hatch. The third tank in Number 5 Troop was knocked out but none of the crew are at present available. Sergeant Hedges, the tank commander, is in hospital suffering from shock and burns."

'B' Squadron tanks - Number 7 Troop - Lieutenant Harre (killed in this action): - "The Troop Officer took over command of Bruiser, and moved up with the unit through the minefield, and re-engaged the enemy. During the engagement the track of Beau Geste' was blown off by a minefield. The Troop Officer searched for this tank in Bruiser; but was heavily engaged by the enemy. A shell blew the back bogies off his tank, so that the tank had an acute list, making the 75mm gun useless. The tank then caught fire and the crew were ordered to bale out. During this episode the Troop Leader (Lieutenant Harre) was killed."

'B' Squadron - Number 5 Troop - Lieutenant McNab was travelling in 'Boar’ and what happened to him and his crew is not known. 'Boomerang' of this troop, Sergeant Johnson writes: - "We heard B' Squadron over the air heavily engaged by anti-tank guns, and we came up to the ridge with the 1st Armoured Division, having been left behind, and engaged mixed targets. Eventually we found Regimental Headquarters on our left, and were engaging targets when we saw our men returning from over the ridge."

'B' Squadron tank 'Betty' - Squadron Sergeant Major Kechane writes: - "I was ordered to lead the squadron through the minefield on a given bearing where an attack was to be put in on (codename) 'Shield'. B' Squadron took up position on the left of 'A' Squadron and gave smoke cover to them during their attack on enemy armoured fighting vehicles. ‘A' Squadron then Withdrew to the left flank of ‘B' Squadron."

"The wireless message from Bacchus' (Major Callan's tank) said that this tank was temporarily out of action owing to a hit on the turret, and Captain Bliss ('Cadiz) was to take command of B' Squadron. Later a message came from Regimental Headquarters ordering 'B' and 'C' Squadrons to attack the ridge. The objective seemed vague as tanks milled around for some time."

"Bacchus eventually led the attack: Fire from enemy anti-tank guns was very heavy. The German infantry began to leave their trenches in bunches. Bacchus' changed direction but kept heading towards the ridge. Boanerges' on the left was hit and caught fire. Betty' continued to fire until it was impossible to advance further. On attempting to retire Betty ran onto a minefield which damaged the tracks and suspension. The driver reported that it was impossible to remove the tank. We were fired on heavily and I ordered the tank to be evacuated."

A tank of 'C' Squadron - MQMS Watson gives the following story: - "Sergeant Chipchase commanding a cruiser, had his tank severely damaged in a minefield in the early morning. Being unable to repair the damage, he and his crew then inspected various other damaged Crusaders on the minefield until he found one he could repair and make battle-worthy."

"Working all day, most of the time under shellfire, Sergeant Chipchase and his crew eventually succeeded in making the tank movable, and brought it back to where I was working near (codename) Bottle Track. One of the bogies was damaged and Captain Melville (RTA) decided to complete repairs on the spot. During this operation all concerned came under fairly heavy and accurate shellfire, and eventually a near miss wounded Sergeant Chipchase and two members of his crew, one fitter and the RTA's driver."

28th October 1942. At 0500 hours Colonel Sheppard (Deputy-Commander 24th Armoured Brigade) appeared and instructed the Signals Officer to take the seven Shermans remaining, and hold the ridge to the east of our position on the previous day. The Battalion (47 RTR) was under ammunition. When they had replenished they followed a tank of 41 RTR down (codename) 'Star Track'.

At (24th Armoured) Brigade Headquarters the Brigadier pointed out on the ground where he wanted the tanks, and this information was passed to Captain Oliver who had now appeared and taken command. We sat on the ridge all day until 1700 hours, firing at tanks, infantry and anti-tank guns. About mid-day the 3rd Battalion (Royal Tank Regiment - 8th Armoured Brigade) turned up to thicken the line.

We were shelled all day at intervals and our lack of casualties was probably due to a piece of dead ground where we were well hull-down, and to a knocked out Sherman some 50 yards ahead which received more than 50 rounds within yards of it. The Germans either thought it was an observation post, or that they were shelling us since the tanks level with us on the right hand had to withdraw behind a further ridge to escape the shelling.

The following tanks destroyed the targets stated: -

BOOMERANG knocked out one armoured car and one tank which was towed away afterwards by another.

APHRODITE destroyed one anti-tank gun, one tank, and one possible anti-tank gun.

A C Squadron tank commanded by Lieutenant Butler fired 22 rounds of 2 pounder at a German Mk III at 1800 yds, and saw an ambulance come up to that tank under a smoke screen.

So many targets were engaged, that some tanks were refilled several times, some being obtained from Brigade Headquarters tanks One Scout car, driven by Tpr Arkle, fetched up a considerable quantity of ammunition which was passed through the revolver port to tanks which were under shellfire.

On this day, one Sherman and five Cruisers came under command of Lt Col Dumbreck for his attack to the North of the position held by the rest of the battalion. Despite the addition of our tanks from our own regiment and from 41 RTR at the last minute, this force appeared to work very smoothly

The cruiser Squadron was up, and immediately the force was formed it was ordered to advance to a ridge about 2000 yards ahead. One cruiser lost touch with the formation, and three of the remaining four were put out of action immediately they were over the top of the ridge. A track was blown off one by a shell. Another of the same troop retired to a hull down position after receiving a hit through the engines and engaged targets from here until evacuated to the LAD. Another Cruiser was hit in the left hand bogie by what appeared to be a 50mm at unknown range, which went straight through and out the other side, doing damage to the controls and engines This tank was towed out immediately.

The remaining Cruiser continued the attack, and withdrew to a hull down position with the rest of the force in due course. This tank fired 60 rounds of 6 pounder and set on fire five enemy tanks of unknown type

The Sherman ADAPTABLE 1V went over the ridge with C Squadron following the Cruisers, and reached a forward ridge before receiving a hit in the right track and left hand sprocket, which made steering impossible and the tank was therefore brought out in reverse. This tank was engaged on the far ridge by a Mk IV Special at under 300 yards, which obtained 8 or 9 hits on the front of the Sherman none of which penetrated, before the Mk IV was set on fire by our tank. The tank received 28 AP hits in this engagement, none of which penetrated It also made use of smoke which had been obtained after the crew's experience on the previous day, both to cover its own withdrawal in reverse and to assist the squadron commander in covering the advance.

One of these Mk IVs was painted black, and was stationary with guns pointing in the opposite direction until the range was down to 300 yards when it was traversed and opened fire.

This attack, like our own battalion's attack on the previous day took our tanks on to a ridge were they were engaged from three sides by guns which could not be seen. Again there did not appear to be any artillery support for this attack

We then came back and returned down STAR track and the next day gave up our tanks

The following points have been noted by various officers: -

The Recce Troop only had one car out of action for mechanical defects and none from direct fire from the enemy. Two ran onto a minefield, one losing a rear wheel and part of the suspension without damage being caused to the engine, the other losing a front wheel, both of these were recovered. Another had all four tyres blown off by a bomb which landed ten yards away, but was in use shortly afterwards The only casualty, other than the MO mentioned earlier was one man suffering from shock.

They proved invaluable both for carrying messages and for transporting the MO, RTA and personnel who normally travel in thin-skinned vehicles and whose jobs carried them at various times with the fighting squadrons. Throughout there was seldom time for orders to be carried to tank crews, and situation reports, in which the men were naturally interested, were few and mainly hearsay.

The .50 AA gun, though possibly a hindrance to regimental and squadron commanders, was used with effect by tanks of fighting troops on a number of occasions. The gun and bracket was taken down and strapped to the back of the turret in less than a minute, and tanks were always able to get this out of the way before engaging ground targets. These guns would have been even more used had it not been for the fad that we were always surrounded by a considerable amount of light AA, which would not normally be the case.

The wireless was occasionally jammed, but on the whole was satisfactory, although on one or two occasions two nets were definitely on the same frequency. Security throughout was poor

We then came back and returned down (codename) 'Star Track' and the next day gave up our tanks.