Friday, August 14, 2020

They Fly Before the Raging Bull!

Sherman VC (Firefly) of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, 11th Armoured Division

Newly promoted Second Lieutenant James Fitzhugh stood in the commander's hatch of his brand new Sherman VC, serial number T263030, which the men had taken to calling "Old Thirty-Thirty." He now commanded Number 3 Troop in A Squadron, 3rd Royal Tank Regiment in the 29th Armoured Brigade of the 11th Armoured Division, the "Black Bulls." Said troop consisting of one Sherman VC "Firefly" and three 75 mm gunned Sherman Vs. The latter which his crew still insisted on referring to as "The Lambs," (as in "sacrificial") even though the Germans made a point of attempting to destroy the 17-pounder equipped VCs before they worried about the Sherman Vs.

Which is why the troop commander's vehicle was typically never in the front or rear of the troop but somewhere in the middle, or, preferably, hanging back a ways in an overwatch position while the Sherman Vs "tested the water" by advancing first.

"Are you about done lads?" Fitzhugh ceased studying his map long enough to inquire if his crew were done with refueling. The other tanks in the troop were wrapping things up as well. They had just completed a sixty-mile dash from just north of Vernon (where they had crossed the Seine River) to Amiens, on the banks of the Somme River. Since leaving Flers on the 17th of August, they had traveled too many miles on the same set of tracks. Those had been replaced on all four of his troop's vehicles yesterday by their attached tank maintenance troop with the assistance of the crew of each tank. Once topped off with fuel and ammunition, they were pushing on to Arras and then Lille.

His uncle would have recognized those names from his war, 1914 to 1918, had he not died in 1927 from the effects of being gassed by the Huns. Fitzhugh understood his uncle's dislike of the Germans, he was surprised that he didn't hate them.

"Nah laddie, life's too short to go about hating folks. Dislike the bastards I do..."

"Horace, watch your language in front of the children!" Fitzhugh's mother chastised her older brother often for his language.

"Aye Maggie, sorry. Anyway Jimmy, I don't like the Huns, not a bit, but I don't hate 'em. They was trying to kill me, I was trying to kill them. But the gas, that was just wrong. For that I almost hate them."

Fitzhugh didn't hate the Germans, he despised them, especially the SS. He had seen too many executed French villagers and even a few instances of dead British POWs which the SS had killed rather than let loose or try herding along in their headlong retreat. Unofficially, his squadron didn't take SS prisoners. Unofficially.

"We're ready here Lieutenant!" His driver Corporal Tommy Ginns shouted up at him. Time to move on. The squadron commander came over the radio and gave the order, "Move out, road column, let's snap to it!"

"Another day another shilling, right Leftenant?"

"A shilling for thee, a pound Sterling for me, you dog of an enlisted swine."

"Right Sir! Stuff it Sir!" His gunner, Sgt Cecil Chapman was always riding him on his elevation to the officer ranks. Fitzhugh was sure that when the war was over he'd be lucky to revert to Sergeant!

Path of the 11th Armoured Division of which 2Lt Fitzhugh's troop is a part.
17 August to 04 September 1944
The German Wehrmacht, which had rolled triumphantly into France over four years before, was now a shadow of its former self. Most of their armored vehicles had been destroyed in the Falaise Pocket. The 7th Army, the defenders of Normandy had been crushed, elements of the British 11th Armoured Division, the "Black Bulls" of 11th Armoured had captured that army's most recent commander, General der Panzertruppe¹ Heinrich Eberbach, outside Amiens. He had commanded the remnants of 7th Army for roughly nine days.

The Germans were fleeing on foot, using requisitioned vehicles, and anything they could get their hands on. Old French armored vehicles, modified extensively, were in evidence among the columns of retreating troops. But only if you could see them in the dark, it was suicide to travel by day. The USAAF and the RAF² had established air supremacy over France and well into Belgium and the Netherlands. Most of the Luftwaffe's fighter strength was devoted to protecting the Fatherland from round the clock bombing, the Amis by day, the Tommies by night.


German armored units were being reconstituted far behind the lines from the remnants of once proud Panzer units. Many of which were then transferred to the East, to be ground up in the meat grinder which was the Russian Front. A front which was now far from Russia itself as the Red Army pushed deeper into Poland and the Baltic States. To the south the Russians had overrun most of Romania. The end was all but certain.

But for whatever reasons - honor, their oath to Hitler³, pride, the Germans were not ready to surrender. The forces in the West fell back, delaying the Allies where they could, though supply problems were starting to slow some of the Allied spearheads without any resistance.

If the Wehrmacht could make it to Belgium and the line of the Albert Canal they might be able to halt the Allied advance short of the Rhine. It was their only hope.

Many Germans surrendered, bereft of hope and the will to fight, they simply gave up.
Imperial War Museum

But enough fought on to make the Allied advance a trial for the soldiers involved. While victory was in the air, many more men would die and be wounded before that victory was sealed. But the end was near.

All that remained was to total up the cost of that victory...

¹ General of Armored Troops
² The United States Army Air Forces and the Royal Air Force, respectively
³ On the 16th of March 1935, all members of the German military swore an oath to Adolf Hitler personally. Not to the German people or government, not to the laws of the land, but an oath to a single man, Hitler.

Editor's note: At 1511 hours local on Thursday the 13th of August, my daughter, The Nuke, gave birth to a 7 pound 9 ounce healthy baby boy, mother and son are doing well. Through the wonders of modern technology, I've already video chatted with her and my son-in-law. The newest member of my tribe, who we call Robbie, for that is his name (Robert Ryan) is a handsome lad, no brag, just fact. I am very, very happy.


  1. Congrats to the Nuke and hubby, "healthy" is what you want to hear in that circumstance. And the clan grows again..........:)

  2. I have 91 miles straight line distance between L'Aigle to Amiens. Up to 134 if following current roads (which assumes current roads fairly follow the same routes as in 1944).

    Following landing at Juno, the 11th Armoured took quite a beating until early August. Its difficult to imagine the morale at the time of your episode. However, I could see a bit of vengeance for the smashing they took in 1940 (pre-Dunkirk).

    What numbers would the Brits use as far as number of tank troops in a Squadron?

    Congratulations for the newest addition to the tribe. There is a reason to celebrate.

    1. Yup, an error on my part. Sometimes in a rush to get a post ready for the next day, I miss details. Which is why I rely heavily on my editors (all you readers out there) to identify those errors so I can correct them. I found another source for the movements of the 11th Armoured in August 1944. Seems they crossed the Seine at Vernon, not Rouen. So I corrected the path on the map. If you assume that the 11th bivouacked north of Vernon, then the distance from there to Amiens is much closer to 60 miles by road.

      A British armored squadron had a headquarters troop of four tanks and four troops of four tanks each (in Sherman equipped units, one Sherman VC and three Sherman Vs). There was also an Admin Troop of 25 trucks (lorries in the British parlance).

      Indeed there is a reason to celebrate!

    2. Thank you. I had figured 4 tanks per but wanted to confirm that number.

  3. It would be a shame to not mention Fred Kite. He was in "A" Squadron of the 3rd RTR.

    I suppose you wish to avoid actual persons. I think you did mention that.

    1. Rather than attribute things to real people, living or dead, I try to avoid mentioning real people. Though I have written of the commander of sPzAbt 503, who was a real person, and he has figured in some of the episodes. Sgt Kite sounds like a real mensch, I may need him to cross Fitzhugh's path at some point

  4. I forgot to add a link to Fred Kite.

  5. Seems some of the squaddies have a better line to the scuttle than I do. So, the newest of the clan is breathing air on their own?


    1. I rely heavily on others to find my errors. 😉

      Because, as you say, their line to the scuttle might be better than mine!

      The newest addition to our clan is alive and well, stays up all night, sleeps all day. I wonder where he gets that from? 🙄

  6. Those Brits must have been running their tanks hard for them to need new tracks so soon (US tracks had a much longer life than any other nation's tracks.) Fortunately replacing track on a US medium was relatively easy, especially if you used one tank to pull the track for tensioning purposes.

    And, just like any war, one side keeps fighting long after the obvious time of loss happens.

    Congrats to you and yours. Enjoy the roadtrip in Blue and have a nice time with the Nuke and hers.

    1. When you consider that most of their tanks had been running on the same tracks for three months, it seemed like a plausible line in the story.

      Thanks Beans.

  7. Awesome news about the newest grandchild - glad he and mom are doing well. So he takes after you in the looks department? :-)

    The camo on some of the Germans' vehicles was pretty well done - but I can't imagine the terror when they heard (if they heard) an incoming Jabo. From our perspective, air superiority was partly intended to instill that terror, just like the Blitz and V1/V2 missiles were intended to terrorize the Brits at home.

    The SS were real bastiges - Malmedy comes to mind, among many other atrocities.

    1. Heh, remember, I said he was handsome, so he couldn't possibly look like me.

      Some German vehicles looked like bushes when not moving, but move they had to and that gave them away!

      Look up the Ardenne Abbey massacre, an atrocity by the 12th SS against members of the Canadian Army.

    2. Just read up on that massacre. Reminds me a bit of Goliad in Texas in 1836. What's more disturbing to me is that Standartenfuhrer Meyer was convicted of the war crime but only served nine years for it. I hope he is rotting in Hades at this point!!

  8. Too bad they didn't have Google Maps back in the day. They could have reached Antwerp in 7+33. Who knew?

    Congratulations Gramps! (And Grandma, the parents and brothers and sisters, cousins, Aunts, Uncles et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!)

    1. I know!

      Thanks, I'll be AWOL the next few days, heading down to see the latest addition to the family.

  9. Hey AFSarge;

    CONGRATULATIONS to the addition to the tribe!!, I was just watching "A Bridge Too Far" on Netflix, besides loving the soundtrack and the casting, I was living in Europe when they were filming it in Holland and it reminds me of my time there.

    1. A good movie, just watched it myself last month.

      Thanks MrG.


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