Thursday, July 13, 2006

Armoured Car Convoy

Armoured Car Convoy
While serving in Austria immediately after the war – we were fast being reduced in strength as too many senior soldiers, n.c.o.’ and Officers went home as age and time expired – some of them had been with the regiment from the Indian days prior to the war and had been all through Africa and Italy.
So the regiment was suffering as not too many reinforcements were available to fill out the ranks, and many territorial units had been broken up to fill the Regular Army battalions and the 16th/5th Lancers appeared to be the wrong end of the Totem Pole. When the Brigade lost the 2nd Lothians they were to be replaced by the 4th Queens Hussars for a short period.
As a consequence the squadrons were at best – at quarter strength with no real troop organisation as everyone pitched in to do what had be done. I found myself in charge of a whole troop of Sherman tanks of which I knew very little as I had been trained on both Churchill Tanks for battle, and Armoured Cars at the Rieti depot after returning to duty after hospitilisation.
For more – see Comments


Blogger Tomcann said...

One day the word came down that we were to be fitted with American Staghound and Greyhound armoured cars and the Tanks would be turned in and apparently sent out to Burma

The same day I was sent for by the acting Squadron leader – Capt.Peter Bull who noted that I had joined the regiment after a course of Armoured Cars at Rieti, there was no argument to this fact and he followed this by saying that I was the ideal chap to send off to bring these cars back to the regiment.

Some fast thinking on my part to realise that to come from the US – they would have to come in through a port and so a couple of days in Venice would come in very handy plus a few days to bring them all through the mountains to our camp in Knittelfeld, sounded like a very good scrounge indeed.

Imagine my surprise when he went on to inform me that I should pick up the rest of the party at Villach and the Sgt Major would have all the paperwork for my journey to Naples.

The Movement Officer at Villach soon straightened things out and it was with some surprise that I found my self to be the senior soldier in a group of some
Forty young soldiers, who obviously knew how to drive and command an Armoured car.

Off we set on the train for – as we thought Naples – only to be turned off at Foligno Forward delivery Squadron, which was disappointing. We were then advised that two Officers would be commanding the trip back to Austria and so we were to do a regular maintenance on the cars prior to setting off the following day.

n 2 –
n Two Officers duly appeared the next day and much to our surprise they were straight out of Sandhurst and were all very pukka and regimental, one had been made up to first Lt and the other was a month off his second “pip”. It didn’t take us to long to realise that these two could not lead a three piece band let alone a convoy of Armoured Cars through a war torn Country. So it was decided that I should command the third car in line behind the two neophytes.

It was just as well as these two had done their convoy training on the tar
Macadammed highways of the South of England replete with up to date maps supplied by the Royal Ordnance group with which it was nigh impossible to become lost. The maps we were using in Italy at that time beggared description as the main roads were invariably gravel with concrete here and there – where they had been blown up by the passage of two armies.

So began a nightmare trip of many days travel with me having to sound the siren with right hand upright hoping that the two would look back now and again to discover that they should have turned at the last corner. Naturally the schedule went all to hell and we were arriving at various camps long after the cooks had cleaned up and were in no mood to cook a meal for 42 men.

The last straw was at a camp near Udine where the battalions of the 8th Indian Div were spread all over the mountains, who could not do enough for us and they went overboard in seeing to our refreshment and comfort. A most happy evening and two hours maintenance period was spent with these wonderful chaps from all over India.

Three days later – back in the bosom of the regiment, there was quite a line up at the medical office where the Gentian Violet was being administered with a four inch paint brush in order to dispel an attack of crab lice ,courtesy of the 8th Indian Div.

Thursday, 13 July, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

After advice received last year from the 'Three Wise Men' (dare I even say 'Elder Statemen'?) about what to read up on about the Italian campaign and afterwards, I've a better idea what happened. Of course, 'official text book history' seems to miss out all the important escapades like you mention here Tom.

You were a lot better off than one fellow I interviewed in the South of France who was called up to the Army after the Liberation. For a time they were given guard duties on the French - Spanish border and were given no weapons at all. They were not even given a rifle.

I understand the thinking at that time was they were unsure the way things were going as WW2 moved into the 'Cold War'. So, presumably the Yanks preferred to bolster up the Armoury in Austria, which of course was closer to the Soviet Union? At this stage, do you feel the Western Allies felt it was important to bolster up the Armoured might in central Europe?

It may not have been evident to you at the time what part all of this played in the 'Grand Design'. Any thoughts about this with the benefit of hindsight? In any case, thanks for an intersting interlude!

Monday, 17 July, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

No NO Joseph - there was no thought about bolstering the strength of the British Army in Austria at that time - if so it went the wrong way as we gave up a whole Brigade of Tanks for Armoured Cars.
The British didn't have a good enough Car as the Daimlers and Harringtons had been made for after the first war, whereas the US had two very good cars.
The whole point was that the Brigade was earmarked for a tour of duty in Lybia/Egypt whenever full strength was achieved once more.
This became very evident when reinforcements started trickling in from the back end of '46 - we moved to Villach in regular Austrian Army barracks complete with parade square, and the regiment began to look like a fighting unit once more, with lots of blanco - drills - quarter guards etc.
As I left the regiment in March '47 to join with Ron Goldstein in Barnard Castle awaiting demob - and Frank Mee who was digging out trains at Kirkby Stephen - without a shovel I might add as he had already come under the influence of some "Old Sweats".
The 16/5th Lancers made their way to Lybia where they spent the following three years.Then on to Germany - Gulf wars 1 & 2 - they are now back at Catterick for the next six years as training regiment for the Armoured Corps.

Theirs is quite the miltary history starting in and around 1689
with service in India - South Africa - South America - North America -France 14-18 - Waterloo - Afghanistan 1839 -Balaklava-Central India - Fondouk '43 - Tunis - Cassino - Perugia - Florence - all over the place !
They were punished by the King - way back - for backing the Queen against the King - the punishment - 24 years in India !

Tuesday, 18 July, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Frank - it has been said that old sweats could shovel it like Pilots - they could pileit here and they could pileit there - without shovels - somehow I managed to escape digging out a train at Kikrby which had been snowbound for hours overnight - don't know what I pulled but I was warm all day ! The others came straggling back shivering and soaking wet around tea time, while I got ready for another dance somewhere - probably West Auckland !

Wednesday, 19 July, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Thanks for putting me right on this guys.

Incidentally, I used to go to Austria fairly regularly for the snow, and there you fellows were having it over in Britain! Actually, I have a couple of letters written by my Dad in early 1947 from his home village in West Cumberland to his brother in London and he mentions how deep the snow was.

At that time my Dad's family were not connected to the Mains electricity nor had they piped water either, yet it just seems to have been an inconvenience. The mail must have got through somehow or other as well. Perhaps this was due to these unheralded Army types digging out the trains? You never know ......

So, thanks for digging out the trains and keeping the mail going as well.

Saturday, 22 July, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Joseph -
unheralled it was as we performed many heroics in keeping the trains going as in those days - all mail was transferred by train and the GPO wagons on the main line trains were sights to behold with sorting - at high speed before the Edinburgh train hit Newcastle for example and the intermittent towns having their mail unhooked by a mechanical thingi on the side of the track. Those were the days when one could receive a letter by 9 a.m. - answer same and the recipient would have your answer by at the other side of the city.
Now it is transferred from say Bournemouth by plane to Liverpool for sorting - sent back to Poole - next door to Bournemouth- and delvered some three days later - but then again - that is what is known as progress. Also why I get my various pensions and association magazines via Schipol - Phillipines and on the odd occasion - Sweden and Switzerland !
What the Americans cannot grasp in their all out battle to discredit the first jet passenger plane - the Comet- is that it flew - everyday for many long years until recently - from Bournemouth - Gatwick - Newcastle - Norway and return, without incident, carrying mail. !!!

Sunday, 23 July, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home