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From the Field Gun to the Tank

By Professor Richard Holmes
Tommy cookers

Image of the American Sherman tank - an important resource to the Allies in World War Two
The American Sherman tank - an important resource to the Allies in World War Two ©
Despite is inherent dangers, it is a quirk of psychology that most tank crewmen preferred their own job to being in the infantry, while most infantrymen were grateful not to be in tanks.

The tank conferred several advantages. Its armour not only kept out rifle and machine gun fire, but also resisted shell splinters and even direct hits from many types of shell. Crewmen did not have to march long distances or carry heavy weights, the stock-in-trade of the infantry, and with experience could live comfortably in and around their tanks.

'One made his jump and hit the ground with all his clothing aflame but otherwise uninjured.'

But there was a shocking downside. The Sherman tank, so important to the Allies in World War Two, had an unpleasant tendency to burst into flames when hit: in dark humour it was sometimes called a ‘Ronson’ (after the cigarette lighter) by its crews or ‘Tommy cooker’ by the Germans.

Ken Tout thought of how he would get out of a burning tank:

'...hoping to avoid the blazing hell which the back of the tank has become even whilst I am making my leap. It has happened to two of my friends who were gunners. One made his jump and hit the ground with all his clothing aflame but otherwise uninjured. He said that it all happened so quickly that he did not have enough time to be afraid. The other gunner did not move quickly enough. He was caught inside the tank.
The explosions of the ammunition, sufficient to knock out fifty tanks, served as a humane killer before the furnace began to grill him where he sat. Something in my being revolts more against the slow grilling of my flesh after death than against the sudden swift shattering of mind and body in a massive explosion.’
Ken Tout, 40 Hours of Battle

Published: 2005-03-01



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