Although I clearly recall details of incidents which occurred during WWII, I have difficulty remembering the sequence of events, particularly dates. I regret now, too late, that I did not keep a diary. My regular letters home, usually one or two a week, except when in action, would give some clues except that we were not allowed to mention placenames.
What I am about to relate must have happened in the early autumn, probably September 1944, because I was in a Honey tank, not a Sherman.
The squadron had run into fierce resistance late in the day and there had been a battle with German tanks and antitank 88’s. The enemy did not retreat and fought bravely. Our Shermans attacked relentlessly in the fading light and several of our tanks were disabled or destroyed. As it grew darker we were forced to break off and withdraw to lick our wounds, refuel, replace ammunition and plan the next day's action.
Being in a Honey without a turret and no armament meant that our Recce Troop had not been involved in the previous evening’s fighting. However, at 4am as the crews were awakened after a few hours sleep, the Squadron leader came over to speak to me. He asked me to return to the battlefield to see if I could find out what had happened to one Sherman and its crew which had not been accounted for.
So, my driver John Howarth and I set off in semi-darkness in a thick, swirling mist hoping and praying that the Germans were not still there. Visibility was only a few yards but thankfully, the area was silent, apparently deserted apart from the burnt out hulks of several Shermans. I told John to wait for me, jumped down from my Honey and started walking round. I also told him to get the hell out of there if he heard any firing because I wouldn’t be coming back!
Anyway, I was alone as I walked round and there, a little to one side was the Sherman I was looking for. As I approached it, it appeared undamaged so I clambered up onto the hull to examine it more closely.
The hatches were all open and I received quite a shock as I looked down into the driver’s compartment. The red ignition light was on and I could hear the engine quietly idling.
Then, as I turned to climb up I saw the hole, dead centre in the side of the turret. It was perfectly round, nearly 4 inches in diameter and looked as if it had been drilled .....obviously an 88mm at fairly close range. On top of the turret I looked down through the open hatch and saw that it was empty............................
until I leaned down and put my head in and then I saw the body of the unfortunate gunner who had taken the full impact of the A.P. (Armour piercing), in the middle of his back. He was still sitting in his seat and was draped across the breach block of the 75mm gun.
Dawn was breaking and the sky lightening enabled me to see more details. The hole inside the turret was surrounded by a 12 inch saucer-shaped concave depression where the metal had been fragmented by the projectile's entry. The space inside the tank must have been full of razor-sharp flying shrapnel and it was obvious to me that none of the crew would have escaped injury. They must have ‘bailed out’ immediately and stayed under the tank seriously wounded, or crawled away to safety. I could guess that from there, when things had quietened down, they were found by RAMC stretcher-bearers and taken to an Advanced Medical Station.
It was not a happy ending but it solved the mystery of the missing Sherman and crew.