How Did a Young World War Two Tank Commander Stamp His Authority on His Regiment?

History Hit Podcast with Captain David Render

4 mins

16 Jan 2019

This article is an edited transcript of Tank Commander with Captain David Render on Dan Snow’s History Hit, first broadcast 22 November 2015. You can listen to the full episode below or to the full podcast for free on Acast.

There was always a fear that my men would not respect me because I was so young. That was a terrible thing, if you want the truth.

It was a first-rate front line, well-known, tank regiment that I was with, one of the best. If you read the history, people like General Horrocks said that the Sherwood Rangers were one of the top regiments.

Large landing craft convoy crosses the English Channel on 6 June 1944.

Insolence among the men

The chaps that I was in command of, the sergeant for instance, were totally hostile to me. He was 40 years old. He had a wife and kids at home and he had had enough in the desert but he had done the landing on D-Day.

A whippersnapper of 19 years of age coming in telling him what to do was not on.

The fact was that he resented me completely, as did the men in the tank. For instance, the first thing we were taught to do as a lieutenant or a tank commander was to have the sights T&A’d (test and adjusted).

A whippersnapper of 19 years of age coming in telling him what to do was not on.

What you have to do is you take the firing pin out of the main armament. It’s about the thickness of my wrist or about my thumb length. You go around the front of the gun.

Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Infantry Division move inland from Sword Beach, 6 June 1944.

If you look at a big gun, you will see there are marks on the edge of the barrel. You get a bit of grease and your bit of grass, and you make across Ts on the end of the barrel.

You then go back, and you aim the gun up until you see what you have read off the map – a church spire or something – as a target 500 yards away. So, you set the gun at that.

Then you go to the sights and you adjust those, so that you adjust the sight at 500 yards on the side and lock it in. Then, when you put a round out of the spout, it fires.

General Eisenhower meets with the 101st airborne division on the 5th June. The General was talking about fly fishing with his men, as he often did before a stressful operation. Credit: U.S. Army / Commons.

I said to my gunner, this new chap I was with on D7 when I was in charge, “Have you T&A’d your sights?” And he said, “What does it have to do with you?” So I said, “Everything. I want to know, have you done it?” So he said, “No, I haven’t. And there’s no need to either.”

I had to fight two enemies. One enemy was the Germans, and the other was my own men.

This is a trooper talking to a lieutenant, but he was much older than me. So I said, “Well, I want you to T&A them.” He said, “They’re all right. There’s no need to do it.” I said, “I want you to do them” but he just wouldn’t answer. So I said, “Okay, I’ll do it myself.”

I knew exactly what to do, so I did. The gun was aiming one way and the sights were aiming another. They no more would have shot a tank than jump off the moon. So I put him straight.

I said to him, “Now, I’m telling you that’s the last time you pull that one me. You’ll see. Time will tell.”

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Grumble grunt came the response, and the long and short of it was that I had to fight two enemies. One enemy was the Germans, and the other was my own men.

How to earn their respect

My own men had to be dealt with first. I decided that I was going to show them I was not afraid, because they were afraid.

They had seen a tank hit with their friends in it – glowing red sparks shooting everywhere as their men, their friends, are in there. And if you see that once or twice, you are not too keen on getting in a tank again.

There might once have been one that refused to get back in after the tank being blown up, but all of our men always went straight back in. And so did we, because I came out of three hit tanks altogether.

It was a matter of, “How was I going to gain their confidence?”

I said, “I will lead.” Leading was the most dangerous thing because the first thing that gets it is the lead tank. But I led my troop all the time, right the way through.

After a bit, they said, “This bloke’s all right,” and they wanted to be in my crew. The people wanted to be in my troop.

We also had another big asset. That was in the shape of our squadron leader.

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The other leaders

When I joined, he was only a captain. But then the colonel of the regiment was killed when he was having an order group with the infantry, deciding what we were going to do the next day.

A shell came down and killed 4 or 5 of them. The colonel, therefore, had to be replaced.

The second-in-command of the regiment did not want to do it. They took the next senior major, who was a chap called Stanley Kristofferson.

Stanley Kristofferson laughed. He was always laughing. We all tried to make fun of the whole thing.

The point was that he was always laughing and wanted us to laugh as well. And we did, as young blokes – we got up to various antics, some of us.

We all tried to make fun of the whole thing.

But in principle, he commanded that the regiment. So, we had got a major in charge of the regiment. That is a colonel’s job. They had to promote him.

Then John Simpkin, who was the second-in-command of A Squadron, was a captain when I joined them. Then he became a major. So, the regiment was in a complete turmoil when I joined it.