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TANKS FOR THE MEMORY

 
 
   
  INTRODUCTION  
 
   
  Tanks – tracked armoured fighting vehicles equipped with heavy guns – revolutionised land warfare in the Twentieth Century and still have a place – increasingly inside a military transport aircraft – in the Twenty First. Although first developed in association with William Foster & Co. Ltd of Lincoln, Gloucestershire can also claim many tank connections.  
 
   
  THE GREAT WAR  
 
   
  The churchyard at Prestbury near Cheltenham contains the Inglis family grave and within that grave lies the remains of Major Arthur Inglis, the first man in history to lead tanks into action. Born on 4 July 1884, Inglis had been a pupil at Cheltenham College and had joined the Gloucestershire Regiment at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914.

Tanks – so called because they were officially designated as water storage devices bound for the Middle East to confuse spies – had been developed to break the stalemate of trench warfare. Without them, infantry would have no fighting options other than going over the top of their trenches and through barbed wire entanglements in an effort to reach the redoubts of their opponents.

Like the use of Zeppelin airships as strategic bombers, the use of armoured fighting vehicles as both mobile artillery and infantry pathfinders had been predicted by science fiction writer Herbert George Wells. However, turning Well's "Land Ironclads" into reality began in February 1915 when First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill set up a top secret Landships Committee.

After rejecting many impractical but ingenious tracked vehicles, the Landships Committee was impressed by designers William Tritton and Walter Wilson of William Foster & Co. Ltd of Lincoln. Drawing and calculating in a room in the White Hart Hotel in Lincoln, Tritton and Wilson  - who had built the four seat Wilson-Pilcher automobile in 1904 - had envisioned engine and crew compartments inside an armoured box between two half-height track units, steered by two wheels projecting from the rear. Assembled in Lincoln in the autumn of 1915 and known as "Little Willie", this vehicle proved the basic idea of the modern tank but was itself too short to cross German trenches or climb their parapets.

 
 
   
 

A Male Mark I tank, with steering wheels raised for forward motion, shelters advancing British troops

 
 
   
 

A Male Mark I tank, with steering wheels raised for forward motion, shelters advancing British troops

 
 
   
  As a result, Tritton and Wilson's Mark I fighting tank was longer, rhomboidal in shape with full height tracks - still steered by rear wheels - and weighed nearly 30 tons. Made of armour plate varying in thickness between 6 and 10mm, armament consisted of two six-pounder guns in the "Male" version or two machine guns in the "Female". Maximum speed was 4 mph on firm, level ground or just under 1 mph over a cratered battlefield.

Each tank also required a crew of eight to command, drive and fire the guns. However, to maintain secrecy, technically minded recruits were told that they would be forming a new Motor Machine Gun Corps.

After the final trial in February 1916, Minister of Munitions David Lloyd George - at the encouragement of British Commander-in-Chief Field Marshall Douglas Haig - placed an order for 100 Mark I tanks.

However, the first tanks would not be ready for use until late August 1916. As a result, the first day of the Battle of the Somme - 1 July 1916 - saw British infantry advancing through barbed wire against fortified German machine gun positions that had still not been destroyed by the heavy artillery bombardment of several previous days. 15 000 British soldiers were to die that day in No Man's Land and by the end of August 1916, the Battle of the Somme had claimed 196 000 Allied lives.

However, Haig hoped that the similarly high German casualties in the early stages of the Battle of the Somme - coupled with intelligence regarding a deterioration in German morale - might mean a crisis for his enemy by mid September. In fact the unyielding defensive strategy of Haig's opposite number - General von Falkenhayn - had caused Kaiser Wilhelm II to replace him with Field Marshall von Hindenburg and his Chief of Staff, General Ludendorff. In addition, the Germans were losing ground to the Russians on the Eastern Front, the Italian offensive on the Isonzo had been successful and the Romanians had entered the War on the Allied side.

Haig's attention moved to the high, drier, ground north of the River Somme valley. His battle plan was to:

"..press the main attack south of the Albert-Baupame road with the object of securing the enemy's last line of prepared defences between Morval and Le Sars with a view to opening the way for the cavalry."

It was expected that fifty or sixty tanks would be employed against objectives likely to cause obstacles to the advancing infantry and " operate as a general rule in groups of three."

This flew in the face of "Notes on the Employment of Tanks" prepared by tank visionary Colonel Swinton of the Royal Engineers. In particular, Colonel Swinton had written:

"Since the chance of success of an attack by tanks lies almost entirely in its novelty and in the element of surprise, it is obvious that no repetition of it will have the same opportunity of succeeding as the first unexpected effort. It follows, therefore, that these machines should not be used in driblets (for instance as they may be produced), but the fact of their existence should be kept as secret as possible until the whole are ready to be launched, together with the infantry assault, in one great combined operation."

Haig was aware of this concept, having earlier approved Colonel Swinton's Notes, but he felt that time was not on his side. The tank was still an untried - and far from perfect - weapon and it would have been difficult to keep larger quantities of armoured fighting vehicles a closely guarded secret - thus giving the Germans time to plan counter measures.

Autumn was also fast approaching and, despite the sacrifice of surprise, Haig was determined to use every tank available in what he saw as being his last great effort of 1916 to break the German lines.

 
 
   
 

Simplified plan of the Somme battlefield of 15 September 1916. The scale is in miles.

 
 
   
 

Simplified plan of the Somme battlefield of 15 September 1916. The scale is in miles.

 
 
   
  More specifically, Haig's subordinate General Rawlinson had planned an attack on 15 September 1916 by XIV and XV Corps on a frontage of nearly six miles. Five cavalry divisions would be on hand to exploit the breakthrough.

Preliminary attacks were made on 3 September 1916 when the French town of Guillemont - four miles south west of the Albert-Baupame road - was finally captured. Ginchy, a mile to the north east, was captured on 4 September 1916 but at the cost of heavy casualties. The British objective was now to push three miles further on to the towns of Morval and Geudecourt, driving an enormous wedge into the German defences.

Preliminary bombardment began on 12 September 1916 with its climax just before zero hour at 0620 on 15 September 1916 delivering a concentration of artillery fire double that preceding the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July. However, since the Battle of the Somme, British artillery tactics had improved to the point where they could offer a creeping barrage to destroy opposition directly in front of the advancing infantry. Within this creeping barrages, 100 yard wide corridors were left so that the tanks could advance without risk of damage from friendly fire.

By this time 48 tanks had arrived from England. 34 of these had been allocated to XIV and XV Corps, the remainder being distributed among III Corps and Gough's Reserve Army, based closer to the Albert-Baupame road. However, of the 34 vehicles intended for the main assault, only 23 were serviceable at dusk on 14 September 1916 when the tanks took up their starting positions in Delville Wood behind the British front line.

In particular, of the ten tanks allocated to the Guards Division only five made it to their starting positions. At zero hour one of these failed to start and the remaining four got lost in the mist that shrouded the battlefield.

Indeed, only eleven British tanks managed to cross the German front line and as a result of these mishaps, determined enemy resistance and rain turning the terrain into a quagmire, the anticipated British breakthrough was not realised. Despite this, the towns of Courcelette and Martinpuich - north west and south east of the Albert-Baupame road - were taken and at Flers - between Martinpuich and Morval - tanks scored an impressive victory.

 
 
   
 

 
 
   
 

Major Arthur Inglis with a four legged friend poses next to a tank with "Four of Hearts" artwork

 
 
   
  Thirty two year old Cheltenham College educated Major Arthur Inglis, of New Barn Lane, Prestbury, commanded tank C5 - nicknamed "Creme de Menthe" - as it and other alcoholically named tanks such as "Curacoa" led the 2nd Canadian Division toward a German held sugar factory on the Somme near Longueval, between Guillemont and the Albert-Baupame road.

Then, despite being raked with German bullets and losing a wheel from its steering mechanism, "Creme de Menthe" destroyed the German garrison at Flers and its associated machine gun nests. Inglis even managed to capture "a thoroughly disorientated German General" and bring him back to the British lines, for which the Major was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

 
 
   
 

The medals awarded to Major Arthur Inglis - including the Distinguished Service Order - were sold by auction by Spinks of London in July 2007

 
 
   
 

The medals awarded to Major Arthur Inglis - including the Distinguished Service Order - were sold by auction by Spinks of London in July 2007

 
 
   
  As Volume 8 of The Great War, edited by H.W. Wilson, described:

" Slowly and surely the new engines of war crawled into the forefront of the battle. Creme de Menthe sparkled with blue fire as German machine gunners whipped her vainly with bullets. Rising in weird, toad-like fashion, she prowled around the sand bagged and concrete redoubt."

Major Inglis survived until 1919 when he succumbed to wounds sustained in the last year of the Great War from stepping on a mine, and he is also commemorated on Cheltenham Borough War Memorial and on the roll of honour at Cheltenham College. Perhaps almost as lasting though was the effect of his tanks on the ordinary German soldier. As one later recorded:

"When the German outposts crept out of their dug-outs in the mist of the morning and stretched their necks to look for the English, their blood was chilled in their veins. Mysterious monsters were crawling towards them over the craters. Stunned as if an earthquake had burst around them, they all rubbed their eyes, which were fascinated by the fabulous creatures. One stared and stared as if one had lost the power of one's limbs. The monsters approached slowly, hobbling, rolling and rocking, but they approached. Nothing impeded them: a supernatural force seemed to impel them on. Someone in the trenches said "The Devil is coming" and the word was passed along the line like wildfire."

Despite the huge psychological and propaganda value of the tank, only 18 of those lined up in Delville Wood on the morning of 15 September 1916 actually fought. Ten were knocked out by enemy action and a further 14 became stuck or broke down. As Winston Churchill wrote:

"My poor land battleships have been let off prematurely and on a petty scale. In that idea resided one real victory."

However, so revolutionary was the concept of the tank that the implementation of tactics to maximise its impact on the enemy continued lagging behind actual production of vehicles - evn though 1 000 new rhomboidal tanks of an improved design with steering tracks were on order by the end of 1916. Communications between tanks and their regimental HQs, for example, was initially by pigeon rather than radio and in many battles tanks were still used piecemeal rather than en masse.

 
 
   
 

Mark V tanks bear trench-filling devices toward the Hindenburg Line from Cambrai. The newer track-steering tanks were now able to specialise into supply, recovery and combat engineering rolesas well as just fighting.

 
 
   
  Mark V tanks bear trench-filling devices toward the Hindenburg Line from Cambrai. The newer track-steering tanks were now able to specialise into supply, recovery and combat engineering roles as well as just fighting.  
 
   
  In 1917 however, tanks were able to dominate a battlefield for the first time – although their deployment at Cambrai was a case of cutting edge military technology being stretched a little too far.

Devised again by Field Marshal Earl Haig - with the aim of a quick, decisive tactical victory to get British Prime Minister Lloyd George off his back after defeats at The Somme and Paschendale – this assault was to break the Hindenberg Line.

Tanks - sometimes operating in pairs to rip up barbed wire entanglements with trailed anchors – would open up gaps big enough for cavalry and infantry to reach the German held town of Cambrai. Battle tanks would be supported by other tanks carrying fuel and ammunition, and would have the element of surprise as supporting artillery fire could - by that stage of the war - hit targets without preliminary ranging shots. The high, hard, dry ground for the battle – bordered by the Nord and St Quinten Canals – was also in contrast to the mud of previous battles.

On 20 November 1917 381 tanks managed to cross all three highly fortified but lightly manned German lines, punching a hole four miles wide and five miles deep into the sailient. In London, church bells rang after a victorious first day but without adequate troop reserves Haig’s gamble failed. British infantry could not keep up with the tanks and cavalry fell prey to German machine guns. Indeed, the battle of Cambrai also saw the first use of armour piercing machine gun bullets and artillery pieces mounted on lorries – the first anti-tank weapons. In the end German reserves pushed the British back to their starting positions and in so doing captured many broken-down tanks which they were able to repair and use themselves.

Despite this, tanks caught the British public imagination and following the Armistice on 11 November 1918 many towns received an example for display. Cheltenham’s tank – a Mark 5 numbered 285 – was a gift from the local war savings association in recognition of the 2 500 000 raised by Cheltonians in war bonds and savings certificates.

This arrived at the Great Western Railway’s St James station – now the site of Waitrose – and, once its engine had started, travelled under its own power along Bayshill Road to its resting place near today’s Westal Green roundabout. So slow was its journey that a handing over speech had already been made by the time it arrived, and in 1940 it was scrapped to provide metal for the next global conflict.

 
 
   
  EXPLOITING THE BREAKTHROUGH  
 
   
 

A homecoming Mark A Whippet is guided through the streets of North London in 1919

 
 
   
  A homecoming Mark A Whippet is guided through the streets of North London in 1919  
 
   
  Even before Haig's gamble at Cambrai, some military experts had started talking about using tanks together with the cavalry for exploitation as early as 1916.

This would, however, required a smaller, faster, lighter tank, not least because in consolidation of the battlefield gains of the existing lozenge-shaped heavy tanks there would be less need for enough vehicle length to facilitate trench crossing.

In October 1916 Sir William Tritton of William Foster & Co. Ltd. of Lincoln undertook the design and manufacture of a prototype vehicle to meet these requirements. This was also known as "Tritton's Light Machine" or "Tritton Chaser", and was completed in early February 1917.

The more compact dimensions of "Tritton's Light Machine" led the knighted designer to place the crew behind the power plant which was, however, in roughly the same relative position in the vehicle as in the heavy tanks, with drive to the rear track sprockets. Nevertheless, the new armoured fighting vehicle was immediately distinguishable from its heavier brethren by the low profile tracks and separate engine and crew compartments - giving an overall shape much more like that of later generations of tank.

Separating the prime mover from the personnel was also a practical advantage. In the earlier tanks, carbon monoxide poisoning from engine exhausts had killed more tank crew than enemy action and many drivers, gunners and commanders had to be hospitalised following a day of battle in temperatures of up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

In order to achieve sufficient power with engines which were available for tank use and at the same time avoid the cumbersome gear change and steering arrangements of the heavies, twin 45 bhp Tylor commercial vehicle engines, complete with their own clutch and gear-box, were used. In fact these Tylor engines were also used by London buses of the period.

The two prime mover systems were joined at the cross-shaft from whence final drive to the tracks was by chains to sprockets on either side. For steering the clutches joining the cross-shaft were released and one or the other engine speeded up, the turn being on the side opposite to that of the faster running engine. The steering effect could be increased by use of the brakes on one engine or another. This arrangement had the advantage of being controlled by one man only but it called for a great deal of skill on the part of the driver, because one or both of the engines could be stalled if care was not exercised. To aid performance by decreasing track friction, rollers to carry the top run of the track and a series of chutes along the sides to clear mud were introduced.

The armament - as originally envisaged - consisted of one Lewis machine-gun - then temporarily in favour for tanks - mounted in a revolving turret of the pattern used in Austin armoured cars. The turret was offset on the left-hand side of the hull (the driver's cab was lower and on the right) and had all-round traverse and a commanding field of fire. The gun mounting was approximately 9 ft above ground level.

A production order was given for 200 vehicles based on "Tritton's Light Machine" and designated Tanks, Medium Mark A. Several changes were made in the 20' long production machines, the most prominent being the replacement of the revolving turret by a fixed structure with four ball mountings for .303" Hotchkiss machine-guns. This change was made to simplify production.

The armour thickness was increased from the 9 mm. maximum of Tritton's prototype to the 14 mm. standard of the heavy tanks. The 70 gallon petrol tank, which was unarmoured in the original model, was moved from between the rear horns to the front, where it was enclosed in an armoured box. There were also other minor adjustments at other points including the exhaust system and elimination of the rear mud chutes on each side, which were replaced by round inspection plates. All these changes increased the weight of the Medium Mark A to 14 tons, compared with approximately 12 tons for the "Tritton Chaser", although performance - including an 80 mile road range - does not appear to have been greatly affected.

The first Medium Mark As - popularly known as "Whippets" - were built in October 1917 and they were being delivered in quantity to the Tank Corps in the field by March 1918.

An order for a further 185 Medium Mark As was subsequently commuted to one for Mark Bs, which promised to be a better design. Experimental modifications by the Tank Corps Central Workshops in France to a Mark A included the addition of leaf springs to the suspension and later the substitution of a Rolls-Royce 360-h.p. aero engine for the Tylor engines. These changes increased the speed of the 8' 6" wide tank from about 8 m.p.h. to no less than 30 m.p.h.

 
 
   
  WHIPPETS GO TO WAR  
 
   
 

A homecoming Mark A Whippet is guided through the streets of North London in 1919

 
 
   
  A homecoming Mark A Whippet is guided through the streets of North London in 1919  
 
   
 

Whippets were first used in action near Herbetune in northern France on 26 March 1918 to help stem the German offensive when twelve "Whippets" near Colincamps surprised and put to flight two German infantry battalions.

But the Mk As really came to the fore in August 1918 when some 96 Whippets of the 3rd Tank Brigade were used during the Battle for Amiens. Although cavalry horses were still faster and better able to cope with rough, muddy terrain, Whippets proved more of a match for serious opposition.

One such Whippet, "Musical Box", belonging to B Coy, 6th Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant C.B. Arnold, took part in the big attack on August 8, 1918, overtook the slow Mk V:s, routed a German Artillery Battery and on it's own penetrated to the rear of the German lines. Essentially the lonely Whippet, with its bold crew of only three men, carried on a war of its own. It shot down retiring infantry, attacked horse and motor transport - even ramming a German lorry into a stream -and regularly terrorised the bewildered "Boche". This went on for eleven hours, and then the tank was first immobilised, surrounded and then destroyed by fire from field artillery. Arnold and one of his crew survived, and were taken prisoners.

On 5 November 1918 eight Whippets of the 6th Battalion took part in the last tank action of the Great War although the British army retained a number of Whippets for post War use in Ireland.

During World War 1 the German Army also captured a number of Whippets ( designated Beute Panzerwagen A), but they were never used in combat by the Kaiser’s forces. (Their opinion of it was pretty high, however: some believed it was the only Allied tank that was worth directly copying.) At least one captured Whippet was also used by the far right Freikorps, during the unrest in Germany after the war.

17 Whippets were also used in the Russian Civil War, first by the Whites ( under General Denikin ) and after spring 1920, when captured, by the Red Army. Whippets were assimilated into existing RKKA armoured units and only replaced by Soviet built tanks in 1932.

An unknown number of Whippets were purchased by the Japanese in 1922, staying in service until 1930.

 
     
     
  CHURCHILL: THE V. GOOD TANK  
 
   
 

Churchills were the most numerous British tanks used in the 1944 invasion of Normandy

 
 

Churchills were the most numerous British tanks used in the 1944 invasion of Normandy

Click on picture for more about the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company

 
 
   
  As early as October 1936 a column of Vickers medium light tanks passed over Gloucester Cross and along Eastgate Street en route to a military exercise at Sneedham’s Green while from 1941, Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Company built 764 Vauxhall-engined Churchill tanks at its Bristol Road works.

Beginning life as Infantry Tank Type A22, the Churchill weighed 38 tons and featured a long trench-spanning wheelbase and armour heavy enough to withstand artillery attack. 5640 Churchills were eventually built and they were the most numerous British tanks used in the 1944 invasion of Normandy – both in terms of conventional gun carriers and more specialised forms such as "Crocodile" flame throwers, recovery Armoured Vehicles of the Royal Engineers (AVREs) and bridging vehicles. Former GRCW Chief Draughtsman Frank Barber drove 25 000 miles in Churchill tanks ( more than many combat soldiers ) as part of brake and transmission tests, mainly carried out at a quarry in Haresfield.

Of course many tanks from conflicts both before and after 1945 can be found in museums around the World but they are not always displayed in a manner that is totally accurate to the individual vehicle’s history.

For example, on visiting the Imperial War Museum in London during November 2006 I noticed what was captioned as a Mark V Churchill tank. Keen to know if it was a Gloucester RCW built example, I filled in a request card for more information and received a reply in the post dated 28 February 2007.

It turns out that the IWM example is in fact a Mark VII and was built by Vauxhall in May 1944, the date being stamped on the hull. It has a late type turret and is alleged to have served on "Gold" beach during the D-Day landings. However, it is more likely that tanks built further before June 1944 would have been used instead.

Nevertheless, during paint removal it was discovered that the tank had a BZ registration, indicating service in the British Zone of occupied Germany. It has no known Korean War history but was rebuilt to workshop standards, including retracking, as a "Crocodile" flame thrower for Suez. Shortly after this crisis, it was taken out of service and sold to Pound’s Yard scrap merchants at Portsmouth. Its secondary armament, periscope, radio gear and flame equipment were at some point removed before it was acquired by the Imperial War Museum in 1980. Its present number T 2505873 and name "Vera Cruz" are fictitious.

A deeper appreciation of the Churchill tank can be found in the review of the 2009 IPMS Exhibition in Churchdown.

 
 
   
  DESERT VICTORY  
 
   
 

Now preserved in London's Imperial War Museum, T 10245 is an Infantry Tank Mark II in North African desert markings. Also known as a "Matilda", the 1938 design was one of the few Allied tanks of the early Second World War that could withstand most German guns apart from the deadly 88mm. However, its 2 pounder gun was ineffective against more heavily armoured German tanks.

 
 
   
  Now preserved in London's Imperial War Museum, T 10245 is an Infantry Tank Mark II in North African desert markings. Also known as a "Matilda", the 1938 design was one of the few Allied tanks of the early Second World War that could withstand most German guns apart from the deadly 88mm. However, its 2 pounder gun was ineffective against more heavily armoured German tanks.  
 
   
  Back in the fearful days when General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps threatened the Suez Canal, The Gloucestershire Hussars made a vital contribution to defending the Middle East against the Nazis. The Hussars joined the desert campaign with the 7th Armoured Division in 1941 and distinguished themselves in several battles before being wiped out as a fighting unit. In their year of service however they sustained 257 casualties, gained six battle honours and saw 40 of their Yeomen decorated for valour.

To commemorate their sacrifice, The Black Swan public house in Southgate Street, Gloucester, was renamed The Yeoman in 1969 when it became the city HQ of the Gloucestershire Hussars Old Comrades Association. Its new sign featured a picture of a tank commander wearing goggles on his forehead and holding a pair of binoculars whilst peering into the distance from his turret. And not just a composite, idealised tank commander either – but a gentleman named Charles A’Bear who played rugby for Gloucester before World War II. He was commissioned in the field whilst serving with the Gloucestershire Hussars in North Africa and later won the Military Medal. After the War he became a solicitor in Retford in Nottinghamshire.

During the 1990s, the pub on the corner of Southgate Street and Commercial Road changed names back to "The Black Swan" but the sign showing Charles A’Bear has been preserved in the nearby Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum.

 
 
   
 

Also preserved in London's Imperial War Museum is the American built M3A3 Grant tank used by Lieutenant General ( Later Field Marshall Lord ) Montgomery while in command of the British Eighth Army. Like its cousin the Lee - used by American forces - the Grant's main gun was mounted on the hull rather than the turret. However, in this case the turret gun is a wooden mock-up used to make "Monty's" tank look like all the other Grants under his command. The space normally occupied by the breech mechanism and shells was taken up by command radio equipment.

 
 
   
  Also preserved in London's Imperial War Museum is the American built M3A3 Grant tank used by Lieutenant General ( Later Field Marshall Lord ) Montgomery while in command of the British Eighth Army. Like its cousin the Lee - used by American forces - the Grant's main gun was mounted on the hull rather than the turret. However, in this case the turret gun is a wooden mock-up used to make "Monty's" tank look like all the other Grants under his command. The space normally occupied by the breech mechanism and shells was taken up by command radio equipment.  
 
   
  OPERATION OVERLORD  
 
   
 

 
 
   
  Like its Soviet opposite number the T-34, the strength of the M4 Sherman was the sheer numbers in which it was produced for American, British and other Allied armies. As such, it continued to serve around the World for many decades after 1945. Although armed with a 75mm gun in the turret rather than in the hull - like the Grant illustrated above - the Sherman was relatively lightly armoured with a high profile and a vulnerable fuel tank - hence the popular German nickname "Tommy Cookers".  
 
   
  Despite its distance from the embarkation ports used by Operation Overlord, Gloucestershire played a vital role in the preparations for D-Day on 6 June 1944. As well as the GRCW produced Churchills, Sherman tanks were a common sight around Tewkesbury.

The Royal Army Service Corps moved out of its base at Ashchurch ( only built in 1940 and now a British army vehicle depot once again) in July 1942 to make way for the US 3025th, 3026th and 3043rd Ordnance Units as well as the 622 Unit Ordnance Base Automotive Battalion. Within a year, over 2 000 GIs were stationed there - some being billeted at Tewkesbury's Royal Hop Pole Hotel while others found digs with local families.

More US service personnel took over Mythe House, which had previously been occupied by the Healing Family who owned Borough Mill in Tewkesbury. The fine country house became a military hospital, with wounded soldiers being brought to Ashchurch by train and transferred to Mythe House by ambulance. However, such was the damage that the Americans had inflicted on Mythe House by VE Day that it was too expensive to repair and was finally demolished in 1955.

A similar fate almost befell Cheltenham's Pittville Pump Room, where both interior and exterior embellishments were used for target practice and a large stuffed anaconda from a glass case in the Pump Rooms ended up in Pittville lake. The Queen's Hotel, meanwhile, became the American Officer's Club - and played host to such visiting entertainers as Bob Hope - and Imperial Gardens became a truck park. At Ullenwood, the 110th US General Hospital was built to accommodate 2 000 wounded: with every brick, pane of glass, length of timber and bag of cement being imported across the Atlantic.

However, Cheltenham was by this time even more cosmopolitan than usual with uniformed men from the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Lithuania, New Zealand and Australia and many of these visited Cheltenham Services Club in Regent Street. This was founded by local philanthropist Cyril Bird " for the moral welfare of Cheltenham as well as the pleasure and well being of the forces." The club was run jointly by Cheltenham Corporation, church groups, the WVS and YMCA.

 
 
   
 

Based on the US Army's ubiquitous GMC truck, the DUKW was invaluable in supplying the D-Day invasion forces as they fought their way inland. To keep up with demand as supply lines lengthened however, the Mulberry Harbours - including bridging sections built by the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company - were needed to offload vehicles direct from ship to beach.

 
 
   
  Based on the US Army's ubiquitous GMC truck, the DUKW was invaluable in supplying the D-Day invasion forces as they fought their way inland. To keep up with demand as supply lines lengthened however, the Mulberry Harbours - including bridging sections built by the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company - were needed to offload vehicles direct from ship to beach.  
 
   
  Moreton-in-the-Marsh on the Worcester-Oxford railway line meanwhile became home to the Super Sixth Armoured Brigade. This included Sherman tanks, Willy’s jeeps, Chevrolet half-tracks and the DUKW amphibious vehicles to take supplies direct from ships off the invasion beaches to points several miles inland. However, at H-Hour on D-Day specially adapted American tanks were to fare less well.

The Duplex Drive ( or DD) Sherman differed from the usual Detroit product by having propellers as well as tracks. These were to power the armoured fighting vehicle as it floated toward Normandy disguised as a rubber raft. The tank itself was almost totally submerged and relied on a tall inflatable ring attached to its upper surface to keep both the water out of the turret and to stop it sinking. The idea was that the tank would drive up onto the beach, drop the hooped canvas ring and immediately offer supporting fire to Allied infantry. Apparently this procedure worked well in training exercises and most of the time on D-Day itself. However, all but two of the DD Shermans at Omaha beach sank because in heading for a landmark church tower they encountered cross currents, which effectively capsized them. Sadly, not all the crewmen were able to escape as the water poured in to their tanks and they plummeted to the bottom of the sea where they have remained for over 60 years. Those that did make it to the surface of the water then faced being mown down by other incoming invasion vessels. In either case, American troops were to land on Omaha beach without tank support or even bomb craters to shelter in ( Allied aircraft had bombed inland by mistake ) and the devastating effect of German defensive fire was chillingly re-created in the opening sequence of Steven Spielberg’s film "Saving Private Ryan".

 
 
   
  ENTER THE TIGER  
 
   
 

While the Churchill was a throwback to the tank strategies of the Great War however, the blitzkrieg tactics of Nazi Generals Von Runstedt and Guderian favoured faster fighting vehicles for use with shock troops and air power. The Panzer Mk IV – used against Poland in 1939 and stopping just short of Dunkirk in 1940 – reflected this, although at Rastenburg on 20 April 1942 Adolf Hitler received an unusual birthday present – the choice of two new heavy tank designs offered by Porsche and Henschel. Both were built to a Wehrmacht specification for a 45 ton vehicle mounting a modified version of the 88mm anti-aircraft gun which was also a lethal tank-buster.

 
 
   
  While the Churchill was a throwback to the tank strategies of the Great War however, the blitzkrieg tactics of Nazi Generals Von Runstedt and Guderian favoured faster fighting vehicles for use with shock troops and air power. The Panzer Mk IV – used against Poland in 1939 and stopping just short of Dunkirk in 1940 – reflected this, although at Rastenburg on 20 April 1942 Adolf Hitler received an unusual birthday present – the choice of two new heavy tank designs offered by Porsche and Henschel. Both were built to a Wehrmacht specification for a 45 ton vehicle mounting a modified version of the 88mm anti-aircraft gun which was also a lethal tank-buster.

Despite being 11 tons overweight, the Henschel design involved no new building techniques and so was selected for production. The first "Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf. H" was outshopped in August 1942.

Its hull and superstructure were made of one unit using thick sheets of armour plate welded together in interlocking comb joints. The top of the hull was also formed of a single sheet, pierced by a turret ring over six feet wide to allow a turret big enough to take the breech of the muzzle braked electrically fired 88mm gun - as well as a second MG34 machine gun, fired by the gunner using a pedal.

At the front of the Tiger were compartments for the driver – who turned a wheel operating a differential steering unit rather than pulling levers to change direction – and a radio operator / machine gunner. Separating them was the gearbox connected to the engine at the rear beyond the central fighting compartment. This was originally a 21 litre Maybach V12 petrol engine although a more powerful 24 litre version was substituted from December 1943. A typical ammunition load weighed ton and comprised 92 rounds, half being armour piercing shot and half high explosive shells.

However, the Tiger’s weight was a problem from the outset. The first 495 examples were fitted with snorkel engine breathers so that rivers could be forded. The snorkels allowed the Tigers to submerge in 13 feet of water for up to 2 hours and so avoid bridges that might collapse under their weight. Two widths of track were also provided – a 20" version for transport and a 28 " combat variant – which wrapped round overlapping wheels on a torsion bar suspension. While this gave a stable and comfortable ride however, the wheels easily clogged with mud which could freeze in cold weather. For this reason the Russians always tried to attack Tiger tanks at dawn when their tracks were likely to be immobilised!

Although Tigers were later integrated into Waffen SS armoured formations, they were initially used in independent battalions – normally going into battle surrounded by a "Panzerkeil" – or tank wedge – of lighter vehicles. In this way Panzer III s or IV s could compensate for the slow forward speed and turret traverse of the Tiger. This was especially true of the Panzer IVs rearmed with a longer barrelled version of its original 75mm gun.

In January 1943 a panzerkeil of four Tigers and eight medium tanks destroyed or forced the retreat of 24 Soviet T-34s trying to re-open supply routes into Leningrad - while in North Africa Free French 75mm artillery shells bounced off the four inch thick armour of Tiger tanks at a range of less than 50 yards. Like the wide-open steppes of the south western USSR, the North African desert was natural tank country but in both landscapes and after both the Battles of Stalingrad and El Alamein – both in late 1942 – Nazi tank forces began the long retreat to Berlin.

By the time that the first of 1350 Tiger Mark 1s were outshopped in August 1942 Germany faced the well – armoured T-34 tank of the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front. Also fitted with an impressive 85mm gun, the T-34 was produced in vast numbers in a factory east of the Ural mountains.

The battle of Kursk also proved that Tigers could be overwhelmed by greater numbers of enemy tanks and as the Third Reich began to run out of fuel for these gas-guzzing behemoths they increasingly fell prey to the spring loaded hollow charged warheads of PIAT mortars. Gloster built Hawker Typhoon aircraft firing 60 lb rocket projectiles also took their toll, as did newer British 17 lb anti tank guns. And had the war dragged further into 1945 Tigers may well have met their match in the British Centurion tank, which went on to serve with a dozen armies in the 1950s.

In the face of continuing retreat across eastern and southern Europe, German designers responded with tanks that sacrificed speed and manoeuvrability for armour and firepower, the Tiger Mark 1 leading on to the formidable King Tiger and Elefant tank-destroyers along with the Jagdtiger with its astonishing 128mm gun.. However, the sloping frontal armour and high velocity 75mm gun of the 1942 vintage Panther took their cue from the Soviet T-34

These proved particularly lethal against the relatively thin-armoured Sherman after D-Day, but like its Russian counterpart the American tank had the advantage of being built in large numbers outside the bombing range of the Luftwaffe. In total war, quantity had its own quality. Nevertheless the Allied saying in Normandy was "If one Tiger is reported send four Cromwells or Shermans and expect to lose three of them!"

 
 
   
  T-34: THE BEAST FROM THE EAST  
 
   
  The 1940 vintage T-34 was not only an advanced tank for its era and produced in vast quantities but its excellent design was the result of two decades of Soviet experimentation and a willingness to embrace worthwhile foreign ideas.  
 
   
  The 1940 vintage T-34 was not only an advanced tank for its era and produced in vast quantities but its excellent design was the result of two decades of Soviet experimentation and a willingness to embrace worthwhile foreign ideas.

In particular the T-34 evolved from the Christie tank - rejected by the US military and bought by the Soviet Union in the 1930s - that combined relatively light yet effective sloping armour with large wheels that gave good cross-country performance at speed. The addition of wide tracks - which were to be a feature of Soviet tank design into the 1990s - also gave the T-34 an advantage over Nazi designs in the mud and snow of the Eastern Front.

Such was the performance of the T-34 that the initial reaction of the Wehrmacht was to capture and copy one. However, direct back-engineering turned out not to be possible, although the German Panther was heavily influenced by the T-34 design.

Having traded the original 76mm gun for an even more potent 85mm weapon en route from Kursk to Berlin, the T-34 was exported around the Communist regimes of the post War world and also served in Korea. As well as a battle tank, the rough and ready 500 bhp V-12 diesel engined T-34 was also built in recovery, reconaissance and personnel carrier versions.

 
 
   
  TANK COMMAND  
 
   
  Indeed, now that the Second World War is starting to lose its grip on living memory many people – especially those who were born afterwards – are fascinated both by the history of the conflict and by its role in shaping the World we know today. The very fact that you have read this far shows that you have some interest in Twentieth century history and as such you might like to know more about Gloucestershire’s latest link with tanks.

Tank Command is a new and unique company offering two teams of up to four people the chance to challenge each other with radio controlled model tanks.

Each of the Panzer Tiger Mark 1s weighs about 4lb and is just under 2 feet long, yet features a full infra-red battle system. This allows each tank to shoot– and be hit – without the mess of paintballing. The model 88mm guns even have recoil and an onboard sound system faithfully replicates the revving Maybach engine of the German original.

Combining the thrills of go-karting and even a touch of television’s "Robot Wars", Tank Command is available to everyone over the age of 11 and makes a great treat for birthday parties, works functions or any time! The normal cost is 12.50 per person per hour ( enough for two or even three battles with houses, trees and bridges to be defended and attacked! ) and bookings can be made via John Guy on 07833 161441.