Saturday, 27 April 2013

Captured Tank to Get a Drink

You've doubtless already guessed that we're in WW II again. And once again with a bottle of Lager in our hands.

The headline exaggerates somewhat. They didn't capture a tank and they didn't know there was beer to be had.

"Captured Tank to Get a Drink
Rifleman "Ginger" Johnson, K.R.R.C., was born at Aldershot — if not with silver spoon in his mouth, then with a bugle in his cradle.

The army — to him it means the regular army — claimed "Ginger" for its own when he was toddling to an army school.

There are hundreds like him in the Western Desert, and scores of his kind died in the early actions. The sand blows over their white crosses beside the long road to Benghazi and beyond.

"Ginger" was in town last night. Town means Cairo. It was his first break with the desert for three months. He talked of Tobruk, the Omars, and the Tamars, which recall to those who know these "blasted heaths" a comradeship forged in fear and courage.

"Talking of bottles" said "Ginger," "in June, four of us were sitting near the Bir Hachcim track when my mate says - "What couldn't I do with a bottle of beer now ?"

"Suddenly he gets up, and, pointing the south, shouted — "Here comes a draw - straight from Berlin."

"He was right, too, for lurching our way was a Mark IV. and a truck. We had an A.T. rifle and couple of dozen sticky bombs. And with what cover there was in the scrub waited for the balloon to go up.

Tank Flared Up.

"The Mark IV. halted, puzzled, then wandered around. The Boche truck stopped and three blokes got out with rifles. We watched 'em for a while and also my mate, who was creeping forward with the bombs. I opened on the truck and hit him with the A.T. rifle first round.

"The tank came towards us. Then George — him with the bombs — darts in and hits it square with a couple. She flares up and a couple of Jerries get out and start to run. They get about five yards and call it a day.

"Meanwhile we had worked round to the truck and found ten bottles of lager. Jerry must have seen us opening a bottle for they came in with their hands up."
Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 25 August 1942, page 8.
Had I been in the Western Desert, I guess I'd have felt like a beer 100% of the time. What with all that sun, sand and constant danger of having your head blown off. Though I would have preferred something other than warm Lager. A nice Dark Mild would have gone down better in the heat.

Having heard tales all my life of how relatively gentlemanly the combat in the desert was, I was shocked to discover that both sides regularly executed prisoners. No-one to guard them and no alternative, other than letting them go. I wonder what happened to the Germans captured in this incident?


Craig said...

Just a little clarification (for those who care):

Mark IV — Panzer IV (Pz.Kpfw. IV./ Sd.Kz. 161) infantry-support, medium tank. 10-88mm armor (with skirts), 75mm, KwK 37 L/27 main gun, supported by two 7.62mm MG 34 machine guns. In service from 1939 to 1945.

It was most likely an earlier model, F1, perhaps. The F2 variant—those with the larger KwK 40 L/48 guns—didn't begin arriving in North Africa at the end of the summer in 1942. It may have been the later version, but Rommel had far more earlier versions in Africa, at that time.

A.T. rifle — .55 in "Boys" Anti-Tank Rifle. Developed in 1937, it fired a steel core bullet at 990m/second with penetration effectiveness of 15mm armor at 90º at 230 yards. The rifle was fitted with a muzzle break and recoil cradle mount, monopod and rubber-padded butt. Arguably the best AT rifle at the time, it would become nearly obsolete as enemy armor thickened during the war.

Sticky Bomb — An improvised explosive device consisting of 1) general issue uniform sock 2) Composition C 3) and axle grease. The Comp C was placed inside the sock, which was then slathered with axle greases to make it "sticky". A fuse was inserted through the sock into the Comp C and then lit. The sticky bomb would be placed on or thrown at the intended target, sticking in place. It was especially effective at de-tracking, moving, enemy tanks. However the risk of being killed was extraordinarily high when using one, since the person deploying the explosive need to be very close to the target, and well within the range of defilade fire, from the target or a supporting vehicle.

On a more gruesome note, I don't think any enemy would have been captured in this engagement. A patrol of four riflemen, would not have taken prisoners. The AT rifle would have killed anyone in the cabin of the truck and attacking the truck would have been a diversionary tactic to draw the attention of the three "blokes" and allow for George to approach the tank. The three enemy soldiers from the truck would have been—to use military parlance—"neutralized" by suppressing fire. Mark IVs had five crew members. It seems that three were killed in the blast from the sticky bombs. If the tank had only been immobilized by the blasts, the crew would have continued to defend their position with the vehicle's support machine guns. It appears that the tank was damaged badly enough that the two remaining crew members needed to evacuate. They, most likely, would have been shot while fleeing. I think the phrase "They get about five yards and call it a day." was being used euphemistically.

bailey said...

Arthur Millard, founded of the SPBW, fought in the Western Desert in WWII.

Ron Pattinson said...


I think you're right about no-one being captured. I've only recently realised how desert warfare really worked, especially for isolated, small groups.

Craig said...

Yeah—hot, dusty and bloody.