The Battle for the Rhine: A Tank Commander’s Experience

History Hit Podcast with Captain David Render

3 mins

18 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.

I fought through Nijmegen and as part of the Arnhem campaign, but I fought in Germany as well, which was worse. They had the hump because we were in their land.

Cleves

If you talk about Cleves, for instance, the whole regiment was in a line going up this road. On the left-hand side there were a number of houses, and then there was a gap where the garage should have been.

I was taken out, because they took you out of the tank for perhaps two or three days to give you a blow. The padre or particularly the doctor would keep an eye on the young blokes and say “he’s had enough for a bit”, to let him have a little day or two off. They were very, very considerate like that.

British infantry advancing through Cleves, 16 February 1945

So we are in this line, and I am in a Humber, a tiny little Humber armoured car. I have no driver, no arms or anything, no gun on it. Suddenly one of our tanks – about four or five vehicles up in front of me, because I was the liaison officer to the colonel – suddenly erupted.

Suddenly there was another one behind us erupted, then another. The next minute, I’m siting there with a lid off this thing, and suddenly there was a whacking great bang.

The thing rocks, and inside of the armoured car was illuminated with a brilliant white light, just for a flash of a second.

I used a few old English words, and then I stuck my head out looked. When I turned around, I was looking straight down the barrel of a Jag Panther with an ’88. It was aiming at me.

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Fortunately, he couldn’t quite depress his gun because I only had such a little vehicle. When he fired, the white is the trace that’s on the back end of an armour piercing round, which is a solid lump of steel weighing 22.5 pounds, which moves incidentally faster than the speed of sound.

I was looking straight down the barrel of a Jag Panther with an ’88. It was aiming at me.

That whizzed over my head. That was the white light as it went over: the phosphorus.

I was very lucky to get away with that because then, having fired, he didn’t waste any time, he backed up. He wanted to get off and have another go on another one.

The squadron leaders

The Germans missed a lot of times, but not all the time. They didn’t miss me. In principle, I am alive today because John Simpkin [the Major] thought about how to deal with them.

Most of the time, though, the squadron leaders didn’t think about it. They just said, “we have got to go there, so four troops or five troops go there”.

The crew of a Sherman tank named ‘Akilla’ of 1st Nottinghamshire Yeomanry, 8th Armoured Brigade, after having destroyed five German tanks in a day, Rauray, Normandy, 30 June 1944.

John didn’t do that. He thought, “how are we going to do it and not lose the tanks?” He decided that he would get hold of us, the four of us, and he said, “you must fire for about a quarter of an hour before you move. Brass the area up before you move” because when you are being shot at you cringe.

We were very much on our own. It was my war that we fought, that little bit.

Consequently, that was what we did. We would fire for about a quarter of an hour, and then whilst the tanks were firing, I would let them know I was moving my troop, because I had a troop section.

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We were very much on our own. It was my war that we fought, that little bit.

John would come over the air and tell us which way to go, but when it came to the actual dealing with the Germans and fighting them it was the troop leaders who did it, not the colonels or the majors.

Then I would get up and in amongst the Germans, very close, and brass them up. It was all a bit dicey.