An Anti-Tanker Remembers

This article appeared in the April 1984 The Battalion Remembers booklet.

An Anti-Tanker Remembers 

I'll make this more or less chronological and personal - if there is a lot of 'I' in it, it's because 'I' spent a lot of time with A/Tk. At one time or another I was involved in most of the things that happen to an infantryman, but A/Tk (HQ Coy - the 'Odds and Sods') was my base.

And having said all that I now hasten to add that my time with 18 Platoon in Tunisia and my time back with D, my tribal company in Italy, these two periods have a special place in my soldier memory.

Wally Wordley and I were the two Maori officers among the 60 or so from the Div who did the 2-pounder course at Maadi.

In May 1942 I was posted to the Battalion in Syria in time to be a founder member of the newly constituted No. 6 Platoon. A very experienced officer in the shape of Capt. Rangi Logan was appointed commander and Lieut Ormsby and 2nd Lieut Lambert were the original Troop Commanders. Among the NCO's in those early days were S/Sgt George Harrison and Sgts Jack Reweti, Waka Rewa, Bill Rickard, Tuk Te Anga, Harper Takarangi - my apologies to anyone I have left out - they were all veterans of several campaigns and though I was the only one who had done 'the course', I felt very much the new boy.

Before the mad dash back to the Desert after the delightful week's leave in Beirut we did a few days maneuvers with the Anti-Tank Regiment in the Palmyra Desert (my daughter was born about this time, but I refrained from calling her either Palmyra or Arsal).

Arrived at Matruh we were no more confused that anybody else. We were sent on a 2-pounder crash course with the Scots Greys. The 4 day course lasted 1 day, but 25 men did get a chance to fire off a few shots each at 40 gallon drums. For 40 years I've told the joke of the Glaswegian instructor we met there, viz: The Sergeant-Major in charge of training told me that he had trained Indian and African troops, but never 'Maries'. Did my men understand English? When some of the boys came to me complaining that they couldn't understand the instructors, I lost no time in informing the Sgt-Major that his men couldn't speak English.

We had nine portees and eight 2-pounders delivered to us at Minqar Qaim - long after the battle had started and we drove out that night with the rest of the 4th Brigade transport, blazing trucks, at least one portee, flares, tracer and sundry other illuminating devices marked our path. The infantry piled aboard, our unpracticed drivers often stalled in soft sand and were roundly cursed by their passengers, but we made it. Though Frank Hale and most of the other instantly recruited drivers drove thousands of miles afterwards, that would have been their most memorable trips.

Those early days we had just finished digging our holes, hidden as we thought in a wadi when a Stuka dived on us. We dived into the ground. We knew it was going to be close, very close - almost numb with apprehension we wait and pray and shake - the ground shakes with us. Black, acrid stinking smoke billows around the bleeding portee that drips water and petrol from punctured cans. For a moment I am stunned and gaze dazedly at Sgt Bill Rickard whose face is black and then I count the crew as they rise from the ground - all blackened. There should be 6 of us - there are only five - a direct hit or a hole. Who bought it this time? - nobody! The sixth man rises. The reinforcement who joined us last night was last down and he got on top of someone else. The bomb landed in the spare hole. The numbness passes.

There were times when we of A/Tk did an awful lot of scampering around from ridge to Wadi back again, high up on our portees attracting air burst and other unpleasant missiles - winching guns off and on again digging them in miles in front (that's how it seemed) of the FDLs or just standing and waiting for the signal to bring the guns up. There were too moments of wondering just what damage a 2-pounder could do to armour of what thickness and at what range!

They collected Mk IIIs at ranges of 150-250 yards one day. Those 4 gun crews had learnt some answers and the whole platoon was greatly elated. Mind you the Mark IVs and Tigers which became so plentiful later were another proposition and the same question tended to recur. We had 6-pounders then - at what distance and what thickness of armour. The answer is in the book!?

At Medenine we got an answer. Two six-pounders on our front KOed 4 tanks: I hestitate to claim the tanks for us, because the guns were part of a troop of British guns attached to us, but they were an integral part of our battalion's defence strategy and we shared their glory.

For those of us who had known the Desert, Italy was a totally different scene. We remember the heart-breaking efforts to get 2 guns up the Pascuccio spur - the heaving and hauling the mud, the desperation of 40 men, the aching muscles - the disappointment.

The unsuccessful and again heartbreaking attempt to get guns along the railway line to Cassino station. The din and crash and crunch of mortar and worse - high on the embarkment above the water-logged surround, waiting and praying that the engineers would be able to bridge the 11th gap before day-break.

Christmas Eve 1943 - we towed and hauled the guns from the Cemetery along the road toward Onsogna. We dug them into the sodden earth and finally dozed exhausted in our mud caked great coats oblivious to the ankle-deep slush in our slit trenches.

Last scene that ends this eventful history is the triumph in April '45 at the Canal di Lugo. The A/Tk platoon in an aggressive role; silence its opposite number, improvises a bridge and gets the guns across.

Hundreds of us must have served with A/Tk and returned to our Tribal Companies.

I salute you all.

Harry Lambert

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