This is a copy of a letter sent to my son Mike from Dr Maggs. It’s a bit long but well worth the read.
Dear Master Baldwin.
Thought you’d like to hear of the wartime incident that I told to your father. It was in the final stage of the war. We had to capture the town of Geilenkirchen where it was said, Jerry was going to make a “Wolfschanze” or sort of “last stand” with crack troops of the SS liebstandart Division. In order to soften them up a bit a”fire roller” was put down by 219 Heavy Bombardment Group of the U.S.A.A.C. (we were supporting Pattons 3rd Army at the time) using B17Esand a Squadron of Lancs.
We shot and machine-gunned our way through the F.D.L.s leaving them behind to be dealt with by the P.B.I. Into the town where things were (a bit not much) quieter.
We collected some P.B.I.s on our back but a passing shell took two of them off and the rest jumped off and took cover. I even had my head and shoulders out of the turret going down one street banging away with my Tommy-gun at anything that moved behind us. This included a rather big dog – the Jerries were not above tying a mine to them and let it blow up under a tank. Better to be safe than sorry.
Up ahead I saw cross-roads with the remains of tram wires. “Oho” I thought, “a main road and it will have a dirty great “88” at either end waiting to blow us to kingdom come” There was only one thing to do and so we did it. I told my driver Tpr Pepper (he was my “back shooter” as well” to “belt like b*****y” straight across it.
Now Tanks are slow and timid things and don’t like towns much (if at all!) They (quite rightly) consider them to be highly dangerous places to be gone round if at all possible but to be gone through quickly if not. This instruction was therefore received with universal approbation..
Down went Pepper’s clog 0n the Ki-gas pedal to the 27 litre engine (made by Rolls-Royce and developed from a Spitfire motor and would develop 1700 H.P.) and off we shot. We’d not quite reached top speed (alas for my cleverness!!) but our nose was clear into this wide straight road. When the smoke and dust from wrecked and burning buildings opposite cleared away by a sudden gust of wind to reveal a street, the one into which we were headed, which was completely and I mean completely blocked with a pile of rubble ten strong men couldn’t reach the top of! Impossible to get either through or over. It would have bogged the tank down and probably torn the tracks off (another reason tanks don’t like towns). Left of us about 400 yds up the highway I saw to my consternation and dismay a P.A.K.”88”!!! We were at its mercy! Soon would come the pounding of its shells making the hull a sodden hulk with us inside, all mixed up together Blood, bone and brain (not a lot of that really) guts and gristle, marrow and muscle all turned to mincemeat.
I shouted (down the intercom) to Pepper “Get us the hell outta here Pep” or something like that!! Pep slammed the stick shift into neutral and attempted a neutral turn ( This is when one track goes one way and the other goes in the opposite direction through a double differential and a two-train epicyclic in the gearbox) but we were going too fast. The tank skidded half way round and ended with a crunch against the granite kerb tilting up the tank so that I swear the left-hand track actually left the ground before settling back with a crash and a cloud of dust with which tanks always seem to be covered.
Like every good Tank Commander (!) I’d got my head out of the turret staring at I (and every tank crew) dreaded. A P.A.K”88”!! However I suddenly realised that round its wicked black outline the crew were seated Stopped in the middle of eating their lunch out of mess-tins and staring at us in open-mouthed amazement! I kicked Stan Marsh (my Gunner who now owns the Grand Hotel in Blankenburugh, Belgium – he married the then owners Daughter!) In the back shouting ‘Fire, ******* fiiiiireee!!
He stomped his foot on the firing pedal as I was kicking him (sometimes his back would be a mass of bruises from this rather bad treatment, it’s a wonder he didn’t complain to someone!) and off screeched a “75” H.E. Shell which he usually kept up the spout for town work. This missile hit the “88” amidships somewhere, blew the barrel off its trunnions and shredded the crew who never knew what hit them.
Pepper spun the tank round and we shot off back the way we’d come in case there was another one hanging about with which the P.B.I were better equipped to deal – or so we told ourselves. (Here follows a short lesson in Battle Tactics. The answer to the Tank is the Anti-Tank gun. The answer to the Anti-Tank gun is the P.B.I.. The answer to the P.B.I.. is the Machine-Gun. The answer to the Machine-gun is the??????? Yes!!!!!!! You’ve guessed right first time (but there are no prizes) the Tank!!)
In 1958, 13 years after the war had finished, I went ski-ing in Lermoos, Austria, staying at the (then * but now *****) Hotel Edelweiss. The Head Waiter, knowing that I was (and still am) British, asked me if I’d mind sharing a table with a Kraut (An American word meaning Jerry which WE who’d been with the 3rd Army had more or less adopted). “Not at all” I replied and was soon seated next to a fine specimen of Nordic manhood, about my age or maybe a year or two older.
He told me he’d been in the USA for 3 years as a Vertrator (Representative, an occupation much more highly regarded than it would be over in the U.K.) for the Porsche Car Company and spoke excellent English in consequence.
We got on very well and when, after the meal, he invited me to join him in a drink at the bar I readily accepted. I suddenly noticed that he had the top half of the two middle fingers of his left hand missing and remarked that it must have been a nasty accident. “Yes it was” he said, “it was during the War, towards the end, I was the Officer in charge of a P.A.K. ‘88’ in Geilingkirchen”. “It was calm after a terrific bombing and we were having our lunch quietly, sitting round our gun when suddenly a dirty great tank, seemingly as big as a house, bristling with guns, the size of a battlewagon, whistled round the corner of a street, screeched to a shuddering halt – it came from simply nowhere –loosed of a single shot before we got ourselves together it exploded under the gun, blew it off its mountings, killed all of my crew, blew me into a house and blew these two finger off!!!!!”
“Oh yes” I replied, “rather nasty eh what?”
Ex-Sgt., 14/20th. King’s Hussars
Je n'oublierai pas