- Contributed by
- Tony Booth Royal Tank Regiment
- People in story:
- Tony Booth
- Location of story:
- Holland 3rd December 1944
- Background to story:
- 49th Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 December 2003
The Dutch town of Blerick lays on the west side of the river Maas with Venlo on the other side and our task on the 3rd December 1944 was to drive the German army from the town and clear the ground up to the Maas.
The attack was to be a perfect set-piece assault with armour from the 79th Armoured Division in support of the 15th Scottish Division. The town was surrounded by a wide deep anti-tank ditch with extensive mine fields either side of the ditch and our task was to cross the ditch and drop the infantry on their objectives in the town. I was a driver of a Kangaroo, which was a Canadian Ram tank with it's turret removed so that infantry could be carried to the objective with some protection. The Royal Scots Fusiliers had boarded our vehicles at night and at first light we were to advance. A light rain was falling and when the artillery barrage opened up we jumped out of our skins and I wondered what it must be like at the other end. The flail tanks of the 22nd Dragoons started flailing and made lanes for us up to and beyond the anti-tank ditch, the Churchill Bridge Laying Tanks from the 81st Assault Engineers laid six bridges over the anti-tank ditch. We were given the order to advance and moved to the bridge at that stage we came under heavy air burst attack and that worried me as we had no overhead protection. I was on lane two and as I crossed the anti-tank ditch I saw a Flail Tank in front flailing a path through the second mine field. We were under heavy shell and mortar fire and I was driving closed down, that is, using my periscopes to see the ground. They kept misting up so I open my visor and propped it open with the stay. We were moving along the high ground with the town of Blerick on our left front. My Commander was Sgt Bracewell and my Gunner was Cpl Johnston and we were carrying the Company HQ of the RSFs.
As we approached the end of the high ground the Flail Tank Commander indicated to me he had finished flailing and waved me on. I overtook the flail tank and the Infantry Commander asked my Commander to take him to a row of cottages some 200 meters away, in front of me was a steep slope and I slid down that and accelerated towards the cottages. About half way to our objective we hit a large mine, that not only blew our left track off, but removed the front suspension unit and blew the escape hatch into the interior of the tank. ( The escape hatch on the Ram Tank was under the gunners seat) The infantry dismounted and advanced and took the row of cottages, I looked around and found my commander on the floor and the gunner badly injured. I looked out to see another Kangaroo knocked out some 100 meters to my right, but there was no sign of the crew and as we were under heavy mortar fire I decided to get the crew out of the Kangaroo into a shell hole in front of my vehicle, being outside with some shelter from the tank seemed to be the best option as a mortar inside would not give anyone a chance.
After a while the shelling eased and I decided to get the crew into the cottages where we would have some shelter, I carried my commander into the nearest cottage and went back for the gunner, the commander was paralysed and passing in and out of consciousness, the gunner was badly injured in both legs and was in a lot of pain. I went back to the Kangaroo and collected the first aid kit and a couple of tins of bully beef as we hadn't eaten since early morning, I took out the morphine syringe from the kit and injected the drug into the gunners arm, but the drug ran back into my hand, the syringe was a small soft tube with a needle at one end, like a small tooth paste tube. I tried again and this time managed to get the drug into him and eventually he became more settled. During this period we were in the cottage, although it had a cellar, the stairs were to steep for me to negotiate with two wounded comrades. I realised at this time what little first aid training we had received and I felt powerless to do anything more to easy their suffering.
About three in the afternoon the battle had moved on and I was able to locate help from the HQ of the RSFs who arranged for my crew to be evacuated by a jeep ambulance to a Field Hospital. I remained with the RSFs for three days and rejoined my regiment later. In those days little debriefing and no counselling, one just got on with it. Several days later I was at an Armoured Replacement Squadron in Belgium collecting a new Kangaroo and rejoining my regiment in time for the Ardennes Offensive. I met up with old comrades long after the war to find the my Gunner Cpl Johnston lost a leg but lived into his late sixties, but I was unable to find any information on my Commander, who I am sure shielded me from the blast as he was standing next to me and I was in the drivers seat with my feet and hands on the controls.
When I retired I wrote to the Burgomaster of Blerick and was fortunate to link up with a Dutchman Gerard Kuipers, it was him and his son Henk who were instrumental in finding the site of my mining and that story is now on the BBC WW2 Site under The Perfect Battle of Blerick.
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