Friday, March 31, 2006

Battle School

Anyone remember the battle courses we had to go on? Live ammo being fired over our heads, thunder flashes going off under out noses ! Climbing over obstacles, crawling through ditches, I remember one that I went on, I was swinging over a stream on a rope and kicking someone who had fallen in and was just standing up knocking him back into the water, this made me lose hold of the rope and I fell on top of him

The instructors screaming at us to keep moving and to keep our heads down. One of the things we had to do was crossing barbed wire, someone had to throw themselves down and let the rest of the platoon use him as a plank to cross over. The unlucky man who had to do this unfortunately for him,when he threw himself down some of the barbed wire went through his battledress trousers and into his private parts which did some damage luckily not too serious as I found out because I was detailed to take him to the R A P. In retrospect it was quite funny after the MO examined him stopped the bleeding and wrapped a bandage around his penis, then tied a great big bow on it. When we returned to the barracks this fellow went around showing his wound to everyone. He was quite proud of it, but it also unfortunately gave him a nickname ( which I can't repeat here) that followed him around until he was posted away.


Blogger Ron Goldstein said...

Every time I say "that's got to be the last story I'm going to post" someone like Ray reminds me of a long gone episode and here I am again!
Early in 1943 I had just finished my Driver/Op training at Whitby and was posted to my first "real" Regiment the 112th LAA.
When I reached them, in the North of England, I found to my horror that they were just about to start a Battle Training course and I had to pack away my best Battledress with it's smart new Wireless Op flash that I had just so proudly sewn on my sleeve.
For the next few weeks it was to be nothing but Denims and Mud, mainly mud, and live ammo was the norm. We were shot at, shouted at and s***t at for 24 hours a day and, much to our surprise, managed to survive with very few casualties.
The only piece of wisdom that I aquired and can still remember to this day goes as follows:
If you are fording a stream and you want to know which way the current is running, bend down and feel the pebbles; the direction in which they have become eroded will tell you which way the current is running.
Do feel free to use this vital piece of military know-how in any way whatsoever.

Friday, 31 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Having been training on Tanks with the Horse Guards at Barnard Castle, and while waiting posting overseas,someone thought it would be a good idea to keep us sharp by utilising the Battle School across the valley from our camp at Streatlam. We duly appeared and the first lesson was on how to throw a 36 mills grenade - well this was old stuff to us as having gone through the six weeks infantry training at Bury St.Edmonds.

So in alphabetical order Frank Alison was first up into the slit trench while we crouched around watching points. He was then shown what to do and he then took up the live grenade - pulled the pin - threw his arm back in the prescribed manner in order to throw - and dropped the grenade in the bottom of the slit trench.

Mr Churchill was not there but his words were paraphrased in "never in the field of human conduct were so many scattered by so little."

Thirty of us disappeared in less than the 11 seconds fuse before it exploded. We did have a casualty later on at High Force - a notorious water hazard when one chap fell off the rope bridge and broke his back !

Battle schools were fun - mainly because we didn't know any better in those days.We were glad to be going overseas though !

Friday, 31 March, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Same training grounds Tom still there in 1947 run by battle hardened lads waiting to be demobbed after doing their five.
I think half of them were shell shocked because we had some near misses. As you say we thought it fun because at eighteen we knew no better.

As section leader I had been told to advance in platoon order up over a hill and down into a valley of death like the six hundred.
Keep clear of the taped areas they are dropping mortar's in there, over the wire through the stream under the wire, heads dowm live fire there and up the other side in a bayonet charge, murder the straw dummies scattered in various firing position.

So in open order we went and as we descended the hill keeping clear of the taped areas suddenly found mortars dropping out of the sky all round us.
We all flew into the taped off area and got our heads down until it stopped. With some one screaming at us we shot down the hill over the wire and into the stream, sorry Ron we did not check which way the pebbles were facing we were too scared of losing our own in this debacle.
We crawled under the box wire with machine guns parting out hair or or so it seemed then we charged up the hill and took our revenge on the straw dummies.
The enqiry established the mortars had been set up in the pits that morning and then it had rained heavily. the first rounds shifted the plates and nobody stopped to check they were not killing us. I suppose we were dispensable, there were plenty of eighteen year olds around.
I went through many battle courses thereafter including one for civil disobedience, now that was rough.

Friday, 31 March, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

I have nearly finished cross-referencing the training losses of Bomber Command with the operational losses. I never realised that thousands were lost in training with many others severely injured. Nor did I realise how short the training was for bomber crews, a three month course at an Operational Training Unit (OTU). After training an initial tour was 30 ops (with 'easy' targets such as France only counting as half an op while early returns or aborted ops didn't count at all). Only 35% survived a first tour, after this they were given leave and then joined OTUs and HCUs (Heavy Conversion Units) as instructors for at least six months before returning for a second tour of twenty ops.

But training was fraught with danger. I'll give a couple of examples, by no means extraordinary.

On 12 August 1942 a Whitley of 24 OTU on a night navigation exercise ran into trouble. The port engine lost power and they ended up flying into a bank after being deceived by dummy flares. Sgt W P James was killed, the others all badly injured. Of these, the pilot Sgt J A McIntosh, didn't recover for a year. When he eventually recovered he was posted to No 75 Squadron and, well into a tour of duty, he was killed on 30 November 1944 over Oesterfeld.

On 2 February 1944 a Wellington of 28 OTU, on a cross-country training exercise, was returning to base when a fault developed in the port engine, it overshot the runway and ended up totally wrecked. The sole survivor out of six was Sgt J R Patterson, RCAF, who was very seriously injured. He eventually joined No 12 Squadron. On 12 December 1944, now commissioned, he was killed in a bombing raid over Essen.

These are but two out of 2,835 OTU and 1,236 HCU aircraft training crashes during WW2, resulting in the aircraft being completely written off. It was unusual for any course not to have a fatality.

Some of these losses must have been very grievous for their families, there being many instances of brothers killed. On 9 May 1943 a Wellington of 22 OTU, on a cross-country training run, developed an engine fault and dived into the ground. Amongst the dead was WO1 F R Santo RCAF. His twin brother, P/O J A Santo RCAF was sadly killed during the night of 31 July - 1 August 1944 on a bombing raid on Rilly-la-Montage. Oddly, neither is listed in the CWGC data base, but their details are in Bomber Command Losses Volumes 5 and 7, at pages 366 and 218 respectively.

Friday, 31 March, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Fortunately, I never attended 'Battle School'. Whether Outward Bound type activities in the Lake District would count I am not so sure! You can have an accident running up and down the Lakeland fells or crossing streams, but you didn't have someone else taking potshots at you. However, in Cumbria you can usually tell which direction a stream is flowing Ron: there is usually a lot of water and it usually flows downhill!

While not exactly 'Battle School' a few years ago while running in a fell race I slipped while crossing a stream high up on the fells, getting a nasty cut on my left wrist. Although I got it cleaned up at the end of the run (about 30 minutes later) the day afterwards you could see the poison moving up my arm, requiring some further antiseptic.

Of course, if you were living rough as an escaped POW in WW2 you would not have the chance to get what was a minor wound cleaned up. Also, any time there was live ammunition around I imagine you were at some real risk?

Incidentally, Peter, there were many casualties and plane crashes during training during WW2 in my home area of Cumbria. Out to sea on the Solway Firth, to the south and west of Silloth you still sometimes hear people referring to it as "Hudson's Bay" because of several planes going into the sea in that area during WW2 that had been flown by Canadian pilots. There were quite a few crashes on the Lakeland Fells during training flights in the war years. There was also a plane crash at Whitehaven in 1943 during a training flight from RAF Millom with all crew killed. Several people whose WW2 accounts I posted to the "People's War" website mentioned this, if anybody remembers it. It took me ages to find out the details of those who had been killed, mainly because there was so much kept under wraps because of unofficial censorship.

Each loss of life, even in training was a tragedy. I suppose you had to do the Battle School training and use live ammunition so you knew what to expect later on?

Saturday, 01 April, 2006  
Blogger Ron Goldstein said...

Looking back at what I'd written the other day, namely 'If you are fording a stream and you want to know which way the current is running' I realise I'd left out the vital words 'at night'!

Those in charge of us at Barnard Castle took much pleasure in sending us out after dark and the thunder-flashes and tracer bullets certainly were more effective in the early hours.

Looking back, I can see that Ray, who was to stay in the Infantry during his Army service, must have benefited from the harsh regime of the battle camps.

It certainly never prepared me for my life as a wireless op in light Ack Ack nor even my spell in the RAC but I suppose we all went through the same mill !

Saturday, 01 April, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Ritson's last comment that we had to do the Battle School training with m/g's firing live ammo at us and other assorted whiz bangs made me think of how we chuckled first time into battle and heard the m/g bullets richotted off the side of the tank, knowing full well that we were impervious of damage from that area - what we had no way of being prepared for was the flat express train sound of an 88mm armour piercing shot passing overhead - sometimes as close as the m/g's of the battle school - and to discover how this same shot would penetrate a tank turret and without any slowing down - would exit the turret on the other side.
We never needed any ex-lax !

Saturday, 01 April, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
George Orwell.

Training by its inference has an air of danger about it. Any training is designed to make people aware of, and how to overcome those dangers.
It also makes people efficient in the use of the tools for that purpose.
At battleschool, one of the largest being Warminster, apt name indeed.
Men with the basic then infantry training went to battleschool to take away some of the fear of getting up out of your lovely hole in the ground and moving to contact as it is quaintly known. Not something you do automatically it has to be trained into you by DI's and Experts in all the fields of doing maximum damage to others but staying alive yourself, and by putting the fear of god into you if you do not obey all commands on the instant. Sticking your head into a stream of bullets was by far the better option than trying to disagree with those DI's.
Yes Ritson, outward bound school with a difference some one was shooting things at you and the variety of weapons used against your twitching body seemed endless.
You would be taught how to find your way across country that was full of people sent out to deter you from finishing the course. Over and under obstacles supposedly impassable, shot at by people who loved the sight of blood and then covered in mud, cow dung, and blind with sweat, hardly able to lift your feet off the ground would be expected to charge in to a platoon of fresh young Airbourne troops intent on doing maximum damage to your person.
If you overcame all this you would then see all the gear and fresh troops who tried to take you apart climb onto trucks and head back to Barracks for a well earned beer in the Naafi whilst you were lined up and marched back wishing one of those bullets had hit you, at least you would have been carried back on a stretcher.
Back at last it was weapons cleaned up first to a standard that impressed the imaculate DI's and then you could crawl away throw off all your clothes and lay down in the showers hoping those fresh troops who had motored back left you some warm water. So you would be found flat out under a freezing flow of water too tired to move.
Next day you do it all again and the day after that until you can do it like the experts and give those fresh young Airbourne the thrashing they gave you the first few days.
That Ritson is battleschool.
Most troops no matter what Regiments or Corps would do at least one battleschool some of us did more.
Ron said as a newly trained wireless Operator he was surprised to end up in battle school but he ended up in battle. Many troops who think they are safe and will spend life behind the front end up having to fight. Some of the first men killed and wound during the first Iraq war were REME recovering a broken down tank right up at the sharp end.
You join the forces you should expect that you may have to put yourself in harms way.
We all have our funny stories about battleschool and we may all be laughing now but it was never a laughing matter when you were doing it.
The experience, I would not have missed hard as it was and I am sure the reactions I learnt kept me alive to write about it.
Thank god for battleschool.

Sunday, 02 April, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

I can only go along with every word that Frank has uttered on this subject - I was lucky - with only a few days of this kind of torture before being wafted away overseas - but it was enough to appreciate everthing that the Infantry had to do - and all the others who did not have a steel jacket around them in the fighting.
They had everything to worry about - we only had the big stuff - allied with the frustration of knowing that we didn't have "stuff" big enough to throw back from a safe distance.

Sunday, 02 April, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Tom, you would not get a good infantry man in to those mobile sardine tins. The infantry man's best friend is his spade, in my time we ditched the entrenching tool for the narrow blade short handle spade and you better believe we could get underground faster then any mole.
In REME I always had something of the tracked variety ARV's without a top like Ron. Having seen the result of a burn out I wanted to know there was nothing to stop me taking the shortest quickest way out.
I think it is a state of mind we each admired the others guts but did not want to change places.
I knew many REME recovery crews who would rather go out in the soft skin Scammell than take the ARV. it was a good day when we got the White Half tracks with the HYAB and trailer, best of both worlds.

Monday, 03 April, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Frank -
one of the main reasons that I liked all Tanks was the fact that I didn't have to walk too far - like the Seaforths at Pontecorvo when they drew back for a rest - they marched 15 miles on a wrong bearing - then had to walk most of the way back to their true "resting" place - too late - they had to set off again as their rest time was over !
Even at 15 miles per hour - it beat walking !

Monday, 03 April, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Tom, it is what the infantry do, they walk. You blokes with tracks for feet never did understand that.
We trained by doing speed marches and runs until we worked up to the 21 mile bash with weapons and enough ammo to attack, moving at march and double march time putting five miles into the hour. Heavy infantry put three miles into the hour.
At the end of the 21 mile bash we went into a Company or even Battalion attack and we still had enough to do a bayonet charge and follow through.
Being a bren gunner I missed the charge but had to carry the weapon. We would carry it between two of us or take the barrel off. All the ammo would be in magazines and doled out among our section. The NCO's would take a turn to carry the bren, they did not have to but it is family they looked after their own. We hated being with the Mortar section, carrying three bombs was bad enough but that Bl#### base plate was the most awkward thing you could possibly carry.
The Infantry did not mind hitching a ride on the bean cans but the slightest bang and we were six feet down and away from you lot, you attracted big stuff. Into your hole make a brew and watch the fun was the way to go.
Apart from the fresh air listening to the bird song and seeing the lovely wild flowers walking then as now is a lovely pastime, I still enjoy it as Benji and I walk through the fields and woods. I put a couple of bricks in the pack I carry just to remind me of the good times, sqashes mine and benji's sandwiches though.

Tuesday, 04 April, 2006  

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