Tank Crews

Discussion in 'RAC & RTR' started by Belgian Dave, Aug 20, 2013.

  1. Belgian Dave

    Belgian Dave Well-Known Member

    A few question if I may:

    -How was a tank crew assigned to a tank, were they just told which one, or was there some other process?

    -Once a crew was assigned, did they tend to stay together, or would they be moved around, commanders come and go, etc.

    -Did a crew stay with the same tank, or did this often change?

    -If a tank was hit and there were casulties, what happened to the surviving crew members? Was there always another tank for them to work in, or could they be waiting until a full crew could be made up?

    Im trying to get an idea of how close a crew would be to each other.
    My interest in this is because I believe that my Grandfathers tank was hit, and he was the only one to get out alive. Im trying to understand what effect this must of had on him. Obviously, if crews had been together for a while, and a 'family' bond had developed, this must have been very difficult for those that survived. I understand that my Grandfather at some point suffered from combat stress (hence another topic I started, I would link it, but dont know how!).
    Does anyone know if there was an unofficial (or official) policy of giving anyone who lost the rest of their crew some 'time-out', away from the action?
    dbf likes this.
  2. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Belgian Dave

    I would guess that every unit had it's own procedure so, for what it's worth, I'll tell you how it was for me on joining the 4th QOH.

    At the time I joined them, on 29th March '45, they were in the line just South of the Senio in Italy and there was little or no time for niceties or long winded introductions and I was unceremoniously dumped off a 3 tonner truck and told "You're on the SSM's Honey and you should find it somewhere over there !"

    I was to stay with the same tank until hostilities in Italy ended in May and then, equally unceremoniously, was released from the tank to do general Squadron duties such as manning vehicle checkpoints, running a POW camp and basically doing whatever was required at the time in question.

    My vehicles changed all the time from Armoured Cars to Bren Gun Carriers and it was very rare to have the same crew.

    With a bit of luck you will have more definitive answers from other mambers.

  3. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Having had the full Tank training in Barnard Castle under the Horse Guards and RTR supervisors on mainly Pursuit Tanks( Covenanters - Crusaders ) I was sent out to North Africa as a reinforcement to replace the losses of that campaign
    to th 21st Tank bde which was an assault Brigade with Churchill Tanks - which I had never seen before - so I was allocated to a crew which had lost a wireless operator......and we never did talk about him and I don't even know his name or what happened to him but I was accepted as the Operator and so my re-training on Churchills began by the rest of the crew - and troop - we did everything to-gether - working- eating - sleeping - playing - with no changes to the crew or the troop or for that matter - the whole squadron. The only changes were at the Regimental level with a new Lt.Colonel which we inherited from our sister Bde of the 25th TB and the North Irish Horse.

    The spring of '44 saw us in Italy close to the 1st Canadian Division and the 25th TB from whom came a new Brigadier - again from the NIH - and gearing up for the final battle of Cassino......we suffered a massive landslide which held us back for a week and the 25th went ahead with the Canadians through the Hitler and Gustav lines when we joined them along with the 5th Canadian Armoured at Frosinone when ROME was captured with us having no casualties.

    Then the Gothic Line came up and we joined with the 1st Canadian Div for the assault - and that month long battle cost the bde some 306 KIA and hundreds wounded- including the Troop leader and my Sgt Tank Commander with my gunner and myself both badly wounded......now the Driver and co-driver had escaped the knocked out Tank and were allocated a new Leader - Operator and Gunner- and they were "back on the horse" - the following day....

    To emphasise the closeness of a crew - the Driver Charley Bailey from Keighley was the first to go on LIAP leave to the UK and he took time off to visit the parents of all of us to explain what happened to Graham - Trevor - to be killed and Harry and I to be wounded...he didn't have to do that - BUT he left his family to visit Halifax - Bradford - Birmingham - London to tell our families "like it was "

    By the time I left Hospital in Sicily - the 145th RAC had been broken up for spares and I joined the 16/5th Lancers - who had Shermans - so the re-training began once more with a new crew..

    Hope this helps a it was fairly typical of life in aTank crew

    SleeperService and biddybump like this.
  4. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    As a PS to the above posting - read my account of that day we lost our Tank - " Gothic Line - Battle for San Martino " in the BBc series below- this differs greatly from an accepted account by a well known author as it is the truth and NON fiction

  5. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron


    Prior to reading your posting I had never done any research about my first few days with the 4th QOH but I've just had a look at the Regimental Diary and noted the following dated 20 days before I joined them.

    31 WOs, Sgts and ORs departed on PYTHON. (Home leave for long overseas service)

    This probably accounts for why SSM Busty Thomas needed both a Driver and a Wireless Op but anyway, Hewie (the driver) and I seemed to fit the bill and we soon settled in.

  6. Belgian Dave

    Belgian Dave Well-Known Member

    Thanks both of you.
    Its very interesting to hear from people who were actually there. I never got to ask my Grandad these kind of questions because I was too young. As a young lad, I was quite happy enough to look at his Desert Rat patches, his medals, and his photos, and that satisfied me then. And of course, as a child you always think nothing changes, so he would always be around. Unfortunatly, He was gone before I ever got to an age to ask questions such as these. I would imagine its the same for many people, especially the ones who are researching their relatives history.

    Anyway, you have both helped answer my questions. Thanks again.
    squawker likes this.
  7. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Dave -

    Your Grandad certainly went through the mill with 1st Tanks - long before El Alamein - all through the desert to Tunis - had a bit of a rest from Sicily - then on to just after D Day with 7th

    Armoured all the way to Berlin - Father of a good friend did all that and was badly wounded three weeks from the finish at Soltau.....his brother was not too far away in 5th Tanks.....after a stint at

    Anzio with 46th Tanks......it was never easy...

  8. Belgian Dave

    Belgian Dave Well-Known Member

    Quite simple question, how did British tank crews make tea?
    What kind of stove was used? Can anyone direct me towards a picture of such a stove? What other equipment would be involved, some kind of ration boxes? What would these look like?

    Reason im asking is im constructing a model diorama of a crewman drinking tea.
  9. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

  10. Belgian Dave

    Belgian Dave Well-Known Member

    Thanks dbf. I had found one of those photos you linked to, the others are helpful. Nice to see your fathers photos.
  11. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

  12. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    How did we make tea ?

    Many different ways but I still remember our "Coleman's Cooker" that we used to pump up before igniting.

    I went online and found this pic of it being used by some US troops in ww2.

    I also went to my diaries and found this reference

    Friday 13th. April 1945
    Moved over Santerno. Some M.G. nuisance & one H.E. about twenty yards
    away. Bags of prisoners, Kiss from signora. "Liberatoris !". Chasing after tedeschis
    with 30 browning blazing!
    Saturday 14th. April 1945
    Stayed at rear of 2nd.Armd.Bde. column. L.I 's meeting resistance on Reno
    bridgehead Pulled into village the village in the evening then out to avoid stonking.
    Sunday 15th. April 1945
    Couple of miles back, cleaning guns, airing blankets & tidying up in general.
    Put the old camp bed up & spent a very good night.
    Monday 16th. April 1945
    Early morning move. Watched eytie squad burying some tedeschi dead.
    Found Jerry rifle & ammo in the wood. Cpl.Boreman fixing the charging engine.
    Tuesday 17th. April 1945
    Reveille at 4'ish & then hung around all day doing nothing. Our new
    Colemans Cooker arrived
    . S.Ps (self propelled guns) in next field pretty noisy but
    moved before night.
    Wednesday 18th. April 1945
    Stonked near wood for solid hour. Corporal Todd wounded badly in head
    when airburst caught their Honey. Farmhouses burning, stuck in ditch.
    Thursday 19th. April 1945
    Reveille at 4 am but move was cancelled. Put in some work on auxilliary
    engine. Swam in the stream at the side of the tank. Wrote letter. Some minor
    loot off prisoners.
    Friday 20th. April 1945
    Moved into next field. Tidied up turret & turned co-drivers seat around.
    Made flapjacks for dinner. 25 lb smoke shell landed in next field. Lumbered
    for 2nd. relief guard.
    Saturday 21st. April 1945
    In the column again. M.O's Kangaroo operator caught it right next to me.
    As nightcame on we were left with no flank troops & didn't feel to hot. In bed by 4
    Sunday 22nd. April 1945
    Woke to find mortar crew right at my head inyard right in front of casa.
    Rations came up with T.R's kit (?). More prisoners. Slung my 'spare' rifle. Moved into
    Monday 23rd. April 1945
    Late reveille & after usual packing found no move on. Repaired camp bed.
    Cooking all day. 'Unknown' firing small arms over our heads. Plane down.
    Tuesday 24th.April 1945
    Flap in the night & we moved off at 2 am. Sqdrn Leader was blotto &
    consequently net was lively. Made sweep of Ferrara suburbs. Busty smashes door in.
    Wednesday 25th. April 1945

    Attached Files:

  13. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

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    Last edited: Jul 11, 2020
  14. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron


    'Oos a clever girl ?

    Many thanks for taking me back 68 years :)


    Ain't the internet wonderful ?
  15. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    They also quite possibly brewed tea in the deserts of North Africa, by means of a 'Benghazi Fire'.
  16. rockape252

    rockape252 Senior Member

    Hi 51highland,


    "They also quite possibly brewed tea in the deserts of North Africa, by means of a 'Benghazi Fire'."

    Was that the method my Dad told me he and his mates used in North Africa ?

    An empty ammunition box half full of sand and then soaked in Petrol, then some metal mesh laid on the top to support the Dixie/Mess Tins ?

    I tried this method of cooking rations out in Hedgehog Bravo during the Dhofar Campaign and the result was a very smokey flame which cooked our rations which had a very distinctive "flavour" of Petrol.

    When I got home and told my Dad he was very amused and said "so did ours".

    Regards, Mick D.
    RosyRedd and dbf like this.
  17. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    All British AFVs, including APCs, since the Centurion have had 'bivvies' or boiling vessels fitted.
    I gather many US vehicles have a similar device. They can be used to heat drinks and ration packs.
  18. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Finally getting around to the actual making of Tea by an actual Tank crew....The famous Benghazi Kettle - the Coleman stove was a flat two burner 18" x 18" and sat in the co -drivers escape hatch

    as it was WAY too slow - so - Take 7 lb can of chocolate ( empty) bore hole in the bottom - cut the lid in half - solder one half to the top - insert spent 6 pounder round up through the hole on the

    bottom after cutting off end of round - solder top and bottom to chocolate can....set aside....then take a bottom end of a 105 mm round - caselate to allow oxygen to fire - fill with sand and petrol

    put chocolate can on top - filled with water ( perhaps ) stand back to throw lighted match at the 105 mm base - as water boils throw in handful of tea.....have mugs at the ready....guaranteed that after

    stopping Tank..within 90 seconds - we were drinking boiling hot tea - for which our Tank was the champion in the squadron - co- drivers job !

    Now the theory of this is important as most kettles heat from the centre - the heat spreads to the edges - then to the centre and after three / four minutes finally boils - now the Benghazi kettle heats up

    in layers from the centre at a much higher heat -- ergo -- only takes seconds - now think of your wall boiler - exactly the same principle as your hot water arrives in seconds.......her in North America

    this theory is just catching on with their Tankless water boiler - to-day we still heat water in a 40 gallon tank - which needs re-heating all day long at enormous expense..BUT we Brit squaddies were

    the dummies..yeah right !

    4jonboy and dbf like this.
  19. Belgian Dave

    Belgian Dave Well-Known Member

    Thanks everyone, I do find this kind of thing far more interesting than the 'fighting' side of military life. All very fascinating!
    As im basing the model on a 6RTR in North Africa, im going to go with the 'Benghazi Kettle'. I'll do some further research, see if I can get some idea of dimensions.

    Maybe another question if i can. How was the tea packaged? Would it of been in a box, packet, what colour? Did it have labels on it, part of rations, etc?
  20. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Belgian Dave

    Go to GOOGLE

    Select IMAGES

    Key in Compo Rations


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