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					A Personal Account of Life and Action in a Tank Troop.
Italy 1944-45. Part 3 - The Road to Rome

By actiondesksheffield


People in story: George W Martin
Location of story: Italy
Unit name: 'B' Squadron, 2nd Lothians and Border Horse, 26th Armoured Brigade,
6th (British) Armoured Division
Background to story: Army




This story was submitted to the People‟s War site by Norman Wigley of the BBC Radio
Sheffield Action Desk on behalf of Mr George Martin, and has been added to the site with
his permission. The author fully understands the site‟s terms and conditions.


This edited account is taken from the book “Cassino to the River Po. Italy 1944-45. A
personal account of life and action in a tank troop” written and published by George
Martin.


Other parts to this story can be found at:


Part 1: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7832441


Part 2: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7832702


Part 4: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7833152


Part 5: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7833549


Part 6: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7833710


Part 7: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7833837


Part 8: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7833972


Part 9: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7834043


Part 10: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7834179


During the week prior to 4th June 1944, we had occupied ourselves with limited forward
movement. Being shot at and shelled was a daily occurrence and we seemed to be getting
quite hardened to it. Shells from our guns went the other way of course and we used
plenty of H.E. on enemy positions while in support of infantry.
On the Sunday we moved off early, heading north for Rome. We still had a long way to go,
but the thought of being one of the first Allied units into Rome spurred us on. Our route
was not an easy one – we had constantly to find diversions round obstacles caused by the
enemy, and we soon learned that the most obvious diversions were often mined. Mountain
tracks were also hazardous, often only two feet or so wider than the tracks of our tanks.


By the next morning we were on the rolling plains, south east of Rome, open country much
more suited to tank actions. We once again found ourselves out in front as the leading
troop. It was a lovely sunny morning as we pushed on, mile after mile, with no serious
opposition, travelling in arrow-head formation.


Such was the speed of our advance in the lead, that by late morning, the Squadron was
spread in line ahead, over a distance of several miles. Ahead was the crest of a rise, and
whilst stopped before proceeding beyond the rise, I could see through the heat haze, to
my left front, the skyline of Rome.


From what seemed to be a long way off the voice of the Squadron Leader came over the
radio. “Peter 1, where the hell are you?” he asked. “About a mile away – I can see the
skyline of our objective.” I answered, adding, “we can probably motor straight in.” Faintly
his voice came again - “Peter 1, you‟ll do no such thing, you‟re out on your own with no
support near should you run into trouble. You‟ll just have to be patient, no visits to the
Pope yet. Out.”


We continued ahead but had not gone far when we heard another message, this time an
urgent one, “Peter 1, halt and await instructions, do you hear? Halt in your present
position.” “Wilco – out,” I replied, wondering what was so urgent. This we did, Sergeant
and Corporal, one on each side, we took up defensive positions on the next ridge and
waited in the sunshine. Eventually the rest of the squadron arrived, and all troop leaders
were called to an urgent meeting. The Squadron Leader congratulated us on good work
today, but looking at me, warned against getting too isolated. We had new orders.


We were now to by-pass Rome, head north east and try to contact the enemy by nightfall.
We had our new route which was over mainly open country. I passed this on to my troops
and overheard one of the drivers say, “All right isn‟t it? I‟ll bet the bloody Yanks won‟t be
pushing on to contact the enemy by nightfall, they‟ll have their feet up in Rome.” A
sentiment shared by many of the troop!


The move was one of confusion; other troops to our flank had to allow us to filter through
while they attempted to drive eastwards. By late afternoon we had arrived at the road
which was to be our new centre line north of Rome. Our squadron was ordered to keep to
the road and I was in the lead, Sergeant and Corporal following, with the rest of the
squadron strung out to the rear. „A‟ and „C‟ Squadrons, I understood, were covering open
ground to our flanks and rear. We pushed ahead and the drive was uneventful for a few
miles. By now we were well clear of other troops and the road ahead had the uneasy
feeling of „no man‟s land‟.
Suddenly, I noticed movement in the distance and we were soon overtaken by 3 American
Tank Destroyers operated by a Free French unit. They were being shelled, but increased
speed to get out of the way. At this point, we were ordered to halt while the front was
stabilised.


Evening was drawing on when we received orders to move, and to push on along the road
with us in the lead again. By now the shelling had eased to a few shots just to annoy us.
Ahead and on our left stood a house. We moved forward slowly, but I could see no sign of
life or any movement, when suddenly a solid A.P. shot roared past my tank from behind! I
reported details to HQ; the Squadron Leader said, “Impossible.” As he spoke a second shot
roared past, this time even nearer. I ordered our driver, “Full speed ahead and get behind
that house.” We were certain the shots were from our own troops.


By this time we were going flat out, 40 mph at least, and with the house just 12 yards
away, I thought we had made it. Suddenly there was a terrific thud; an explosion on the
left front of the tank. Sparks seemed to fly in all directions inside the turret and there was
a horrible crunching and grinding as the tank, minus its left track and driving sprocket,
lurched and rolled to a halt behind the house. There was no fire and the shot had not
penetrated the armour. I radioed HQ, feeling more than a little annoyed and passed on my
belief that our circle friends were responsible. We surveyed the remains of our tank and
knew its fighting days were over. Attwood, my driver, said simply, “She‟s finished, and
we‟ve been damned lucky.”


As no further A.P. shots came across, I felt my theory was correct and the message had
got through. I took over my troop corporal‟s tank and reported to my Squadron Leader,
“Peter 1‟s a write off, so I‟m taking over another vehicle.” Squadron Leader replied, “Well
done - our circle friends have asked me to pass on their apologies for the error. Out.”


After another 500 yards, we got the order to halt and awaited the arrival of infantry to
consolidate our position. On return to harbour I made a point of seeking out who had shot
us. I met a very contrite „C‟ Squadron sergeant who explained that they had been told that
anything they saw would be German. They thought it was a Sherman they had seen but
were ordered to fire. I accepted his apologies, he wished me luck and we shook hands.


Pr-BR

				
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posted:11/15/2011
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