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Tank Driver - 1
Here is a tale from the sixties, when I was a tank driver in the British army, 13/18 Hussars.
We had traveled to a place in Germany from our base at Paderborn, also in Germany. I cannot remember the name of the place, but it had been a barracks for German forces.
One day we had been preparing to leave the base to commence maneuvers and everything was ready for the whole Regiment to leave the barracks after tea when a problem arose with the Engine Compartment fire warning horn, which sounded in my right ear. This horn is placed about 4 to 6 inches behind and to right of the driver's head and is VERY LOUD. The fault meant that the rest of the Regiment set off , and we were to follow as soon as possible, which became several hours later, as the light was fading.
Now my tank commander had a brilliant idea! The turret and main armament on a Centurion tank were stabilized, wherever the tank moved, in direction, or up and down hills, the gun and turret could be automatically directed to maintain aim on the target. My tank commander looked at his map and marked our position, he then used the radio to discover where we should meet the other tanks of the Regiment, and took a compass bearing to join the two positions. The basic idea was to aim the turret towards the main body of the Regiment and then tell me to drive across country, without lights, in rapidly reducing visibility (the light was fading) and keep the main gun barrel pointing centrally over the front of the tank, so we set off and I drove as instructed by the Corporal commanding the tank.
A couple of hours later I felt the tank speeding up and began to dab the brake pedal and change down through the gear box, but the tank seemed to continue to build up speed, I could hear the engine screaming and I was down to second gear with only the first or crawler gear to go. It was clear that, at the speed we were traveling, there was no chance at all of selecting first gear, but the vehicle showed no signs at all of slowing down. There were few options left to me, so I resorted to easing the hand brake on and off while gently pulling on each steering brake lever alternately, but the tank just would not slow down!
Thankfully we did eventually stop dead! I was shaking after my efforts to slow down and in relief that we were right way up with, after checking the rest of the crew, no injuries.
I climbed out of my cramped driving compartment as my commander stepped down from the turret and we walked up from the track guard onto the ground. Normally the track guards of a Centurion tank are around five feet from the ground and we had to step UP onto the ground in which the tank embedded! There was nothing we could do in the darkness, so our trusty commander used the radio to inform his superiors of our position and we were told to await rescue the next morning. The gunner remarked that he thought we had a problem when, as he sat in his seat in the turret reading, suddenly he seemed to be lying on his seat back and holding the book above his head.
In the daylight of the next morning we could see exactly what had happened, we had driven straight down one side of a steep valley and the tank was buried to a depth of around five and a half feet into the floor of the valley. Three of us, myself, the gunner, and the radio operator set off to climb the slope, following the track the tank had left the previous night. I would guess the vertical depth to have been thirty to forty feet with a sixty-five to seventy degree slope, and it took us almost two and a half hours to climb to the top!
The first recovery attempt was called off when the REME Centurion ARV became stuck on an access track further along the valley and threatened to either shed its tracks or slide off the track to the valley bottom. By this time myself and the rest of the tank crew were safely back at the barracks and various friends kept us informed on the progress of the recovery. Various theories and suggestions were put forward but, apparently, these were either tried and failed, or deemed too risky. We were told that the tank was finally pulled onto firmer ground by a German worker using a small caterpillar tracked digger which was about one third the size of the tank. The tank reappeared at the temporary barracks four days after our incident and the REME began to examine it.
Four or five days after the incident the adjutant of our regiment had me drive another tank to the point where I had previously driven down the valley side, this time it was about eleven thirty on a bright sunny morning. The adjutant had me stop at the top of the steep slope, almost in my earlier tracks. Then he ordered me to select first gear and drive over the rim of the steep valley! I refused! I knew the possible consequences of my actions, but I refused twice more. I finally climbed out of the drivers seat and told the adjutant that I would not drive down there for the Queen, never mind for him! We drove back to the barracks and nothing more was said about that incident.
A final note, The brake drums on Centurion tanks are about three feet in diameter and twelve inches wide, with a minimum thickness of half an inch. When the REME crew dismantled the brakes, the drums were found to have large cracks in them and pieces of metal were missing from the brake shoes!
Some pictures from that time. Doesn't it look cold!
My thanks to Tony (for sending the above story)and his Dad (who wrote it).
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