Discussion in 'The Brigade of Guards' started by dbf, Jan 31, 2014.
Lord Carrington, Reel 1 of 1.
I know that your regiment is the Grenadier Guards but can you tell me precisely which unit you were in, in ’44/’45?
I was in the 2nd Armoured Battalion and when we went over to Normandy I was in charge of the Reserve. I didn’t go over there till after the Battalion had arrived but joined up with them about two weeks later.
Do you remember anything about the preparations which you made for Normandy, the training which you had?
Well yes, you see, because we were - when I started I was a regular soldier before the war, and we were an infantry battalion and then the War Office decided in 1941 to transform the Guards Division, the Guards, into a Guards Armoured Division. We were selected to be transformed from an infantry battalion into an armoured battalion. I think looking back on it, it was a rather curious decision because we, I think were very good infantry and what made the Brigade of Guards as it was then called, so good was the discipline which it had and discipline in a sense is doing what you’re told and I’m not sure that necessarily is what you want in an armoured battalion: in the sense that you need a bit more initiative in your tank commander and your troop commanders than you would necessarily get in an infantry battalion where the whole thing is much more closely supervised. Also they were rather large being Guardsmen and the tanks were rather small. And so I think it was an odd decision because I think we were very good infantry and I think it took a bit of time to adjust. I mean to give you one example of it that er, my Squadron Sergeant Major who was a very large man indeed, when you talked on the radio to him there was always a very long pause before he answered. It so happened during an exercise that I happened to be pretty well next door to him, in the tank next door and I saw what happened. What happened was he heard my voice on the radio and before he answered, he saluted and this was the sort of training which you’d got in the Brigade of Guards before the war. I think it took a bit of time to get the sort of spirit of armoured battalions and the initiative and enterprise necessary instilled into people who’d really been just instilled into doing just what they were told.
Was there any sort of discontent about the transformation?
Oh no, I think we rather enjoyed it. I think it was considered to be a challenge and fun. I think everybody liked the idea very much but I think for a time we weren’t very good at it. I think we became quite good at it but I don’t think we were very good at it at the time. Also I think, you know, there’s something more glamorous about fighting in an armoured unit than there was in an ordinary infantry battalion. So I think we felt we were a bit more glamorous.
When did you actually go across to Normandy yourself?
Oh, I went about a fortnight after D-Day, I suppose, something like that.
What impression did the beaches make on you when you saw them?
Well not all that much really, I don’t truthfully remember. We got - I got out and went to join the battalion which was, I think, just outside Caen at that time.
Did everything seem well organised by then?
Yes, mmm. Very well organised. I mean it was a marvelous feat of organisation, the whole thing and I think people who were not there and didn’t see some of it didn’t realise quite what an astonishing logistical feat it was to get all those troops over.
How long was it before you went into action in Normandy?
Well we went into action almost immediately afterward. We had, was it called Goodwood the ...
... Operation Goodwood ...
... and we went into that and that was not, I think one has to admit, an outstanding success. I mean, I was not very senior so I didn’t know the ins and outs of it, but it didn’t seem we did very well.
Were you a Captain then?
Yes. It was our first time in action as an armoured regiment - as an armoured battalion. I don’t think any of us did well. There were three armoured divisions there if I remember rightly: there was the 11th Armoured, the 7th Armoured and ourselves. I don’t think it went very well, but I think we learnt a great deal from it and improved very rapidly as a result of that action.
What did you think about the German enemy at that time because ... Did they seem to be more experienced than..?
Oh yes. They also had much better equipment. The Sherman tanks which we arrived in Normandy with, most of them had 75 mm guns and we had occasionally a 17-pounder and the Germans had luckily rather fewer Panther and Tiger tanks, which were infinitely superior. I mean my 75 mm gun wouldn’t go through the front of a Panther or a Tiger tank even if you stuck it up against the front of a tank I mean within a foot but they could go through my Sherman with their 88 mm gun at about 2,000 yards. So we were suffering under some considerable handicap with equipment and I think looking back on it, all through the war, our tanks were really inferior, to the German’s, all the way through the war and right to the end we were inferior. The Panther and the Tiger tank were very, very much better.
Did you and your brother officers say how on earth does it come about that our equipment isn’t up to that standard?
I don’t think we were very pleased, they keep putting us at a disadvantage but there was nothing much one could do about it. You had to fight with what you’d got. Really wasn’t until after the war with the Centurions that the British made a decent tank.
So, as you know we’ve got the Sherman tank, which I think you’ve seen, in our museum: is that Sherman tank identifiable to you?
Well, it’s got my Squadron markings on it - No. 1 Squadron of the 2nd Armoured Battalion of the Grenadiers. I can’t say that I personally after this length of time can recognise the tank but it’s undeniably was my Squadron tank because Dr. B? told me that when it arrived they cleaned it and there were the Squadron markings, you know the Ever Open Eye of the Guards Armoured Division and the Squadron markings.
So in view of the inferiority of the Sherman to what the Germans had, presumably you and your brother officers didn’t develop any kind of affection for it?
For the Sherman or the Germans?
For the Sherman.
No, I don’t think we did much and it also had a rather distressing habit of catching fire very easily and you know a lot of people ‘brewed up’ as we said. It was not a very - it was quite reliable and it had another rather inconvenient characteristic was that it had five Chrysler engines, ordinary Chrysler engines, all joined together, and the fan to cool these engines drew the air down through the turret, and as a result, whatever the temperature you were freezing cold, and in the winter if you were in the turret this draft of cold air was sucked through the turret into the engine. And so one spent all the time, unless the engine was switched off, freezing. It was a horrible thing, the Sherman tank, when I look back on it.
Did you have any contact with the French civilians?
Not very much, no. We were pretty well occupied at that time and we were on the move the whole time. I didn’t really think I had much contact with them. I had contact with them when we were given - after we’d been there a bit we were given 48 hours leave to go and sit on the beach at Arromanches and have a happy weekend and I decided that would be rather a boring thing to do. This was just at the time when the breakout of the beachhead and the Americans, and the French, were just about to get to Paris. So we decided instead of sitting on a beach - David Fraser, who’s a General now, and I decided that we would go off and liberate Paris with the Americans. So we got a couple of jeeps and went off and go into Paris with the first American troops. It was very, very great fun.
What do you remember of the liberation of Paris?
Well they were still shooting a bit, so it was a bit more dangerous than subsequently Brussels was. But when we got to Paris we couldn’t really decide what to do so we decided we’d go and book two rooms in the Ritz, and the German Army Generals were going out the back door as we drove up and booked in. And the Ritz being the Ritz was absolutely unmoved by this; they just behaved as if this was perfectly ordinary occurrence. One lot of visitors was leaving and the next lot was coming! Then we went around Paris and talked to a lot of people but there was still a good deal of fighting going on so people were not as overjoyed as they were a week later in Brussels.
But were British soldiers generally welcomed in France...or did you encounter any hostility?
...Oh yes, oh yes ... no absolutely no hostility at all. No, of course they were very much welcomed. I think the people in Normandy had a pretty rough time but I never came across any hostilities at all.
Because Caen was heavily bombed during the fighting, did you get any reaction?
Yes, well I don’t think we had much opportunity of talking to civilians really. We were pushed around and told to go from ‘A’ to ‘B in that awful Bocage country which was extremely disagreeable because it had all those hedges and little fields and snipers and so on. It was rather an unpleasant period in the Bocage - exactly the wrong sort of country to use a tank in, but you know, you had to use them cos there we were.
You’ve talked about the superiority of the German equipment, what about the kind of tactics which they used, did erm - and their fighting prowess?
They were awfully good. I think the Germans are really very, very good soldiers. I mean I remember particularly, I mean later on after we crossed the Rhine that we had the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division in front of us and they were fighting a rearguard action all the way till the very end, right up to the very end of the war, and in circumstances, in Germany, which they must have known that they were going to lose the war and that there was really not much hope. They fought absolutely magnificently with great courage and bravery and skill. I think it was eh, they were remarkable soldiers.
Whereabouts in North-West Europe did you personally see your heaviest fighting?
Well I suppose we saw it around Nijmegen was the most which perhaps, we tried to fight our way across the Waal there and then we had a certain amount of fighting in between then and the crossing of the Rhine. But from Normandy on to Brussels there was remarkable little fighting. I mean we got up there in no time at all because the Germans were retreating very quickly and it was really only after we’d got to Brussels and then went on with Operation Market Garden that we came across pretty heavy fighting with the Germans after that.
You mentioned the liberation of Brussels as something special, can you describe it?
Well it was special because we - you see there weren’t any Germans in Brussels, it wasn’t like Paris where you had a - the people were still keeping their heads down and also I think the Belgians were rather more pleased to see us than the French, if truth be told. And we had, we went in there I think it was on the - the beginning of September - 3rd or 4th of September or something we went into Brussels, the leading troops, the Welsh Guards went in one way and we came in the way. And it was a sort of - I’d never seen anything like the welcome; everybody jumped over our tanks and there were 30 or 40 people climbing all over our tanks and giving us champagne and they were really pleased and delighted to see us. Unfortunately we were immediately - my Squadron was immediately sent off to guard the Palace at Laeken where Queen Elisabeth who was - the Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians was living at the time and so we spent the night - Laeken was quite some distance outside the centre of Brussels - some people had rather more amusing time than we did. But we were outside the front gates at Laeken. I remember we’d been going for two or three days without much sleep and we just sort of collapsed on the pavement and went to sleep. But I remember Queen Elisabeth coming out and looking through the gates of Laeken and waving at us and shaking hands. It was a great occasion, it really was.
Did you see in the liberation of the West European countries anything of the treatment of collaborators?
Yes, you did occasionally see girls with their hair shorn off in France, but there wasn’t too much of it. You must remember that we were always on the move and we were - all the way up from Normandy we were sort of the first troops there so there wasn’t at that time much opportunity for erm - you know they hadn’t had time to deal with the collaborators by the time we got there so we didn’t see very much of it. When we got a bit more static, after Operation Market Garden, one saw a good deal of the privations and horrors that the Dutch people had suffered. I mean I think that the Dutch really the worst of it all. I mean they were enormously brave in their resistance and they had had a very, very rough time. Come on, they were eating tulip bulbs and that sort of thing I think they probably were in a worse way than anyone else. The Belgians have a remarkable facility for surviving, you know, they ran a Black Market at the expense of the Germans and managed to survive, they are a remarkable people, but I don’t think they had quite the rough time the Dutch did.
Were you on an individual basis to be able to do anything for Dutch civilians who came asking?
Well we tried to yes, but it was very difficult. What was interesting about that particular period from Brussels on to Nijmegen where we got stuck, was that in that Operation we went straight up through the main road from Eindhoven to Nijmegen and we really only held the road, and about 200 yards each side of it, and you used to get the Germans coming in and sort of cutting across the road. Also you used to see all the old DC3s, the Dakotas of the Royal Air Force going in to supply the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem, which if they strayed off the road the country was still held by the Germans, they were shot down. They were enormously brave you know, those pilots - what it called in those days, what now would be sort of Transport Command - I can’t think what they called it - but supplying food and ammunition and so on and dropping them in Arnhem. They got shot down - hundreds of them seemed to get shot down, well hundreds obvious not, but I mean quite a lot got shot down. They were very brave people, we used to - when we saw them come down we used to do a sortie with our tanks to try and pick them up, in the country which was still occupied by the Germans.
Did you have any trouble from the German air force or was there complete domination of the skies by the Allies?
No there was - well, we had a little but very little I mean we did have complete air superiority. Occasionally you saw a German aircraft, occasionally you got shot up by the Royal Air Force - for which I don’t blame them! I mean, if you’re flying at that speed, a tank is a tank. We were supposed to have yellow smoke which you chucked out of the top of your turret and that was supposed to demonstrate to the Royal Air Force that there were Allied tanks and not German tanks. Didn’t always work I can assure you!
Could you not always get it out in time?
Well sometimes you couldn’t get it out in time but when you did, it didn’t seem always to have the effect which was necessary. But we suffered very little damage. I mean one of the things about being in a tank was that unless the thing ‘brewed up’, it was a good deal safer than being an infantry soldier.
When the Germans launched that offensive in the Ardennes, was there at any time when you thought they might break through to Antwerp and the coast?
Yes we were sent for just about Christmas time I think back to Brussels and then up towards on the Liege road to stop the Germans from breaking through and I think there was a real feeling that there was going to be a pretty big battle outside it but the Americans managed to stop it all and so it never really materialised.
When you went into Germany what was the reaction of the German civilians towards you?
Absolutely negative. I mean just sort of surliness and erm ... stunned I suppose by defeat. There were on the whole, there there wasn’t an awful lot of hostility. I did actually, commit a, I suppose looking back on it a war crime because erm, during - we had commandeered a house - somewhere up to I forgot where it was now - and commandeered the house and left tanks and jeeps in there. It was quite a large villa and I woke up rather early about five o’clock and I saw the son of the house putting sticks of gelignite under my jeep and I thought that was an unfriendly act.
So I came down and I said to the people who were in the house, I said “You've got half an hour to take everything out of your house and then I’ll burn it down cos you’re damned if you’re going to blow me up!” So after half an hour I asked my Sergeant - Sergeant Major to put Jerry cans of petrol all round the house and then threw a match in and believe it or not it went out! You know what, you’ve only got to put a match in a waste paper basket and your house will burn down but I had 20 gallons of petrol round this house and it went out. So it wasn’t a very bad war crime.
So you gave up. What happened to the chap who put the gelignite under the jeep?
Oh we let him go.
Was that type of thing common, do you think?
Yes, I’ve forgotten what they were called those young people - were they called Werewolves? Was it Werewolves?
I think so.
Something like that, there were a few of those about, but it was very little, really, not very much.
Did you feel sorry for the Germans in any way at that time?
Not very much, no. After all they’d proved enormously inconvenient. I mean this was the sixth year of the war and six years of one’s life had been spent in this, and I think that my compassion for the Germans was not perhaps as great as it would be now.
Mark you I don’t think we behaved badly, I think we behaved rather well. I don’t think we did anything very awful. We helped ourselves perhaps to one or two things which we shouldn’t have helped ourselves to. I found a most marvelous Mercedes in a garage which, in the jargon of those days, I ‘liberated’. And the Divisional Commander saw me with this Mercedes and he said, “Where did you get that?” So I said I’d liberated it and he said “That’s the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever heard. Send it immediately to Divisional Headquarters.” The next thing I saw was him riding about in it.
Did any of the Germans seem relieved that the western Allies had got to them before the Russians?
We didn’t have any - I didn’t really have any truck with the Germans at all. Absolutely not. I mean, I dare say people more senior than me did, but we didn’t really have much to do with them.
I think the thing that really shocked me was that the battalion liberated one of those awful camps and that, I think, was the most terrible thing that anybody’s ever seen. I mean it really was absolutely gruesome.
Which one was that?
I can’t remember what it was called.
Was it? Something like that. It was on the way up, yes on the way up to Hamburg and Bremen. I can’t remember what it was called but it was absolutely gruesome. I mean people were skin and bone and sitting on corpses and so on.
I think what really shocked me was that the Divisional Commander, the Corps Commander ordered - they were so horrified - they ordered the Germans from the neighbouring towns to come and clean the place up. I think what was so shocking was that they didn’t really seem to be very upset about it. I suppose looking back on it they were keeping the - it was all so awful that they were determined not to show how awful it was. But that was the - I mean, the inhumanity of what went on there was so appalling.
Were you and your Squadron first into that concentration camp?
No, no I think it was another Squadron. We went there to have a look.
And was it like the movie films we’ve seen of Belsen?
As you continued through Germany did you come into contact with the Russian Army eventually?
No, never. We went out - we ended up at, what’s the place called? Freiburg, is it? Right up sort of on the peninsula, Frei..?
No way to the west of that. To the west of Hamburg, is it called Frieburg? [Note: Freiburg, on the Elbe, NW of Stade] If I had an atlas I’d be able to remember. It was a hell of a long time ago. I can’t remember what the place was called, where we ended up, anyway we never saw the Russians ever. How are we doing?
Was there any special celebration when VE Day came, in your unit?
No. I don’t think so. I mean it was obvious the war was coming to an end. I think it was a great relief. I think what one did feel as one got more and more into Germany - you kept your head down more and more. I mean we had one or two skirmishes, or battles, with the 15th Panzer Grenadiers and I distinctly remember being more unwilling to stick my head out of the turret than I had been a month before. You know you felt at the end of it it’d be awfully silly to get killed just as the war was ending
Was there ever any question of your unit being sent for the final stages of the Japanese war?
I think probably not, you see because we had a great parade just after the war which was called was called Farewell to Armour in which we got rid of our tanks and said goodbye to them and became infantry again. Whether we would have gone to Japan I don’t know but I’m inclined to think not immediately. We would have had to retrain to be infantry. I think it would have taken a bit of time.
Fascinating read, when you think of men like Peter Carington and Airey Neave, makes you realise what we are very much missing from today's politicians. Not their fault I suppose, but lacking in life experience and substance.
Perhaps it's also a case of being able to admire some politicians for something separate from politics; normally it all depends on whatever views we ourselves hold.
The tank discussed in the interview
and I think this one this is the Sherman firefly at Bovington, painted to look like Sgt Robinson's who was also in No. 1 Squadron and also received a gallantry award for action on the Nijmegen bridge.
Yes, you're spot on there. It was just something that came straight to my mind in that moment.
Lord Carrington died today, aged 99. Former Foreign Secretary and awarded MC while fighting with the Grenadier Guards in WWII.
Ex-foreign secretary Lord Carrington dies
I often wonder about this and is there a connexion. Thatcher had five Military Crosses in her first cabinet.
Look at the f***wits who are in power these days.
Could you supply the names?
Carrington, Pym, Whitelaw...
I really enjoyed reading all of it. And there is a Freiburg an der Elbe. And it makes sense too, because anything east was the Russian Zone.
NB: my dad was a British POW, just west of Freiburg and sent down to Hanover in 1946. He would have loved the statements about German soldiers.
Sorry, I can't.
I never trust the shit spouted from Radio 3's Breakfast, but I heard this on Radio 3 PM, which may be more reliable. Airy Neave at a guess?
EDIT: Sorry Radio 4 ! R3 is all good.
I'm struggling after Carrington, Pym and Neave.
Maybe they got it wrong - maybe I did. But the BBC are never wrong. Neave died just before Thatcher was PM. The fifth may have been Robert Boscawen (MC at Arnhem), but not an actual Cabinet member. He was the last MC in government.
Airey Neave was killed by the INLA before Margaret Thatcher became PM, so he could never have been in her first cabinet.
The only WWII medal recipients in Thatcher’s first cabinet I can identify are...
Military Cross recipients:
Foreign Secretary - Major The Right Honourable Peter Alexander Rupert Carington, 6th Baron Carrington - Guards Armoured Division (commissioned into the Grenadier Guards) - NWE
Home Secretary - William Stephen Ian Whitelaw, 1st Viscount Whitelaw - 6th Guards Tank Brigade (commissioned into the Scots Guards) - NWE
Defence Secretary - Francis Leslie Pym, Baron Pym - 9th Lancers (2nd Armoured Brigade, 1st Armoured Division). He also received two MiDs - North Africa or Italy
French Croix de Guerre recipient:
Lord President of the Council - Arthur Christopher John Soames, Baron Soames - Coldstream Guards - North Africa
Industry Secretary - The Right Honourable Keith Sinjohn Joseph, Baron Joseph, Sir Keith Joseph, 2nd Baronet - Royal Artillery - Believed to be Italy.
Name Whitelaw, William Stephen Ian
Rank: Temporary Major
Service No: 89506
Regiment: 3 Tank Battalion Scots Guards
Theatre of Combat or Operation: North West Europe 1944-45
Award: Military Cross
Date of Announcement in London Gazette: 21 December 1944
Catalogue reference WO 373/49
Gallantry Awards & Honours: SCOTS GUARDS
Recommendation for Award for Pym, Francis Leslie Rank: Lieutenant Service... | The National Archives
Reference: WO 373/14/369
Name Pym, Francis Leslie
Service No: 235196
Regiment: 9 Queen's Royal Lancers
Theatre of Combat or Operation: Italy
Award: Military Cross
Date of announcement in London Gazette: 13 December 1945
Following on from smdarby's post, another obit
Lord Carrington obituary
"He once passed Margaret Thatcher a note about a foreign dignitary to whom she was offering the undiluted benefit of her views which read: “The poor chap’s come 600 miles. Do let him say something.”"
As mentioned in an earlier post, Robert "Bob" Thomas Boscawen MC was not an original Thatcher cabinet member, rather he was a Lord of the Treasury from 9 January 1981.
However, Sir David ‘Carol’ MacDonnell Mather MC, again, although not an original Thatcher cabinet member, he was an original Lord of the Treasury.
Also, Thomas Trenchard, 2nd Viscount Trenchard MC was an original Minster of State for Industry.
So could the original 5 be Ministers: Carington, Whitelaw, Pym, Mather and Trenchard?
Separate names with a comma.