Tank Crews

Discussion in 'RAC & RTR' started by Belgian Dave, Aug 20, 2013.

  1. Combover

    Combover Guest

    Size wise I meant. If following the correct method, the paper was folded so it was bigger than a single modern sheet. That's a big IF though.
  2. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Similar practice in the RAF. The Elsan toilet was there in the 4 engined jobs but crews did not like to use them as any corksrewing or other emergencies was liable to spread the contents through the aircraft.So pilots peed in any suitable receptacle and slung it out of the aircraft.For bowel movement a favourite hole was the flare chute....noted that the Snaith No 51 Squadron ground crews made a particular note of this for history, cursing when they had to clean them out after a raid.

    The USAF long range escorts had special kits of a tube and container to collect urine...saw a report of two pilots free lancing on targets of opportunity over Germany....one suddenly had a German fighter on his tail,his wingman told him to take emergency action and pull hard back on the stick.During the manoeuvre the contents of the container were thrown about the cockpit but the pilot was otherwise happy with the outcome.

    Never saw toilet paper until well after the war....newspapers were always used....away from home in the countryside there was large leaves that were also used.
  3. spotter

    spotter Senior Member

    one sheet was more than enough if used correctly


    Step One: Take a single sheet of single-ply toilet paper [Figure A] and fold it in half. (This is known as a "valley fold" in origami.) Then, fold in half again. Note: Men usually fold edge-to-edge, but ladies may prefer the more fashionable corner-to-corner technique.


    Step Two: Tear a small hole from the folded corner [Figure B] just large enough to put your finger through. Set the corner piece aside on a clean surface, then unfold the larger piece and slide it down over your finger so that it covers your thumb and knuckles.

    Step Three: Using your finger only, wipe your buttocks thoroughly. Depending on your stool condition, you may need to shake your finger through the toilet bowl water occasionally, but be careful not to get the paper wet.


    Step Four: When finished, grasp the sheet of toilet paper firmly [Figure C] and pull up, cleaning and drying your finger in one smooth, even motion. Finally, use the smaller folded piece to clean underneath your fingernail.
  4. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    One of Ken Tout's books has an excellent and quite graphic description of the 'atmosphere' in a closed-up tank, from overflowing shell-cases full of piss to the traces of other men's vomit.
    Trying to find the page...
  5. Belgian Dave

    Belgian Dave Well-Known Member

    Thats another book for the Amazon wish list!
  6. geoff501

    geoff501 Achtung Feind hört mit

  7. Retired Warrant

    Retired Warrant New Member

    A small arms ammo can works well but it is a bit difficult to sit on so really needed to have your bomb sight aligned for that operation.
  8. DoctorD

    DoctorD WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    This method was a good cure from nail-biting!
    dbf likes this.
  9. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Just have to add this,Churchill said of the US toilet paper after his first wartime visit......its.too shin..obviously didn't have to experience like the rest of us ...newspapers.
  10. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    From The Armoured Micks:

    gash hand likes this.
  11. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    T'was about right as many an infantrymen was hit on the head by an ejected round full of stuff without the benefits of a "Garde de lui" their responding

    comments could be heard for miles,,and not always comprehensible...

  12. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Hi Tom
    I guess they're not known as PBI for nothing.
  13. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    An extract from The Armoured Micks, which gives a flavour of what it was like to crew a Sherman tank in North West Europe, 1944-45


    Guardsman Tony Parkinson
    Guardsman Frank Hetherington
    Lance Corporal Bill Eager
    Tony Parkinson was a tank Driver, Frank Hetherington a Gunner/Operator, and Bill Eager a Gunner.

    Tony Parkinson leads off ....
    So, what is it like in a tank?
    Well, it depends on whether you like being shut up in an iron box which is on tracks, with a very large, powerful and noisy engine just behind you, being cramped into a very small space, with no windows to let in any light. It is very cold and the smell of petrol is everywhere.

    Yet, if you like driving a large vehicle at a good speed across fields, banks, ditches, and through rivers, yes it can be great fun.

    If on the other hand you are trying to tune in the radio and load the gun, or fi you are trying to see the target and aim the gun whilst the Driver is climbing banks, bouncing over ditches, and going from left to right all the time whilst driving the tank at high speed, then you may decided that it is rather a hard life!

    The British Crusader Tank was a beauty, sleek looking, quite low, very fast. It had a wonderful suspension, you could just bounce over many things. As the driving sprockets were at the back, when you put your foot down the front lifted like a motor boat and you just flew along.

    Mind you, the driver sat on the floor and the accelerator went down like a normal car, but the foot brake and the clutch both went upwards, worked by the instep of your boot; the gear lever was in between your legs, and the steering levers each side of you, very well placed, your hands just fell on them; but you can see that changing down via double declutching had your arms and legs all over the place. You steered by changing gear on one track only, or braking on one track through compressed air valves.

    Mind you, as a fighting vehicle it was quite useless. It only had a 2-pounder gun the shells of which just bounced off the enemy tank. The speedometer was in the turret so the Gunner could work out speed, drag, whip, and a lot of other things, but which time the enemy had hit you! It never occurred to anyone that the driver might like to know how fast he was going as he approached a corner. Still, we had a lot of fun with them, they had a 1919 Liberty 12 cylinder dual ignition engine in 1942. We were dead modern!

    The USA Sherman Tank on the other hand was a very different thing, it was much lighter, there was a deal more room in it for crew but much harder work to drive. You sat on a stool which could be raised so that you could have your head out, or lowered, where you drove looking through your periscope. You steered by pulling hard on two long levers which worked brakes on to the differentials slowing down one track as required, a poor system compared to the British method of power gear changes to one track at a time. The foot pedals were badly placed, it was quite simple to find your foot slipping off the pedal and getting jammed between the brake and the clutch.

    Being front sprocket drive, although the engine was at the back, the gearbox, and final drive gears were at the front, this meant a very long prop shaft which had been known to break when driven hard. It had five six-cylinder Chrysler engines all geared to a single output shaft; it worked well, giving very little trouble.

    The turret was better, more room with a better gun, a 17-pounder in my case. Seeing that we were now fighting, a decent gun was an advantage. But as we were sitting on top of an underfloor magazine of shells with machine gun ammo each side of you, 100 gallons of high octane petrol behind you, and many gallons of oil in the gear box and final drive in front of you, there were much better places to be when it caught fire, and they certainly did very quickly!

    As a fighting vehicle agains the smaller tanks they were quite good, the trouble was we frequently found ourselves facing the big Tigers or the big Panthers.

    So, to answer the question, "What was it like in a tank?" It is good fun in the British Tank, very hard work in the USA Tanks, but the main thing to remember is "Stay on the training grounds in England" - life is a great deal better there!

    The later Crusaders had a 6-pounder gun, as Frank Hetherington tells, when he joined the battalion at Shakers Wood ...

    My brother Jim and I eventually ended up at Guards Armoured Training Wing, Pirbright early in 1943. We received training in various types of tank. Matildas with a 2-pounder gun and Crusaders with a 6-pounder. We both joined 2nd (Armoured) Battalion at Shakers Wood in Norfolk in 1943 where we had Crusaders with 6-pounder guns - I can't remember the type of machine gun (Besa). Eventually the Crusaders were replaced by Shermans with a 75mm gun and a .300 Browning machine-gun co-axial with the 75mm. We also had another .300 Browning mounted in front of the Co-Driver's seat - sometimes called the bow gun. A .500 Browning was mounted on the turret ring on top of the turret. So our crew was five men; Commander, Gunner, Wireless Operator/Loader, Driver and Co-Driver/bow Gunner. (As Mick O'Cock has said, just a few weeks before embarking for Normandy each troop received a 'Firefly', the Sherman with a 17-pounder high-velocity gun, which had a four-man crew.)

    As a member of a tank crew (Ballynahinch was my first), I was Co-Driver/bow gunner. One had a very limited view when closed down. The peri-telescope was our only means of vision except for the tank commander who usually kept his head above the turret ring to get an all-round view. This reminds me of one of our early battles in which the tank commander was decapitated by a German A.P. shot. At least he went very quickly - God help him. (It was in Ballynahinch that Frank Hetherington was wounded on 11th August during the battalion's last battle in Normandy. He returned a few months later, had four more tanks shot from under him, and was again wounded just two weeks before the war in Europe ended.)

    What was it like to be a member of a tank crew? We all became very close to each other and depended on one another. The commander could see better what was happening because he usually kept the turret hatch open. The remainder of the crew had to depend on their peri-telescope. However, in battle, the person who had almost no chance of using the peri-telescope was the wireless operator/loader. He was so busy loading and re-loading the 17-pounder or 75mm and the .300 co-axial Browning, and clearing possible stoppages on the Browning - not to mention his duties in radio communication - that he hadn't any visual idea of what was happening. However, he could hear on the intercom and radio nets and, not being able to see, he was all the more stressed up. It was as a wireless operator/loader with Bill Eager as gunner, that several more tanks were knocked out.

    I have served in 75mm and 17-pounder tanks. When the guns were firing continuously particularly the 75mm and 17-pounder - the suffocating stink of cordite was almost unbearable - especially the 17-pounder which had a much larger breech block and a much larger calibre. It also (on recoil) emitted a large flame from the recoiling breech, on the wireless operator/loaders's side. I tried to remember to lean away from the 17-pounder as I did not wish to be squashed or singed. The cooling system of the Sherman tank served to keep our feet cold, but did not improve the turret atmosphere.

    Lance Corporal Bill Eager...

    Apart from two seats, one either side of the gun breech, the tank commander either stood on the turret floor, or sat on a small circular hinged seat with his knees in the gunner's back and with his head sticking out of the turret. This particular pose was not the most enviable, as heads always seemed to attract sniper's bullets. The gunner and loader were surrounded by pieces of equipment, racks, containers, periscopes and control gear all fitted into various places where head and body contact was possible and at times quite painful.

    The Driver and Co-Driver shared a side position from which the tiller bars controlling the direction of the tank, or the .300 calibre Browning hull gun which protruded into the compartment, could be used. Both of these crew members had limited access to the turret, but this was only available if the turret cage was in certain positions. In action, when hatches were battened down, it was possible for the barrel of the gun to be directly over the driver's hatch or the co-driver's hatch; should this be so ad none of the several positions lined up with the access holds into the turret, neither of the two in the front of the tank could get out if the tank was knocked out in action. Should this happen it became the gunner's responsibility to try to rotate the turret to get the gun clear of the hatches or to elevate the barrel high enough for the hatch covers to be swung open. Should he elevate the barrel of the gun however, it could prevent the loader from getting out from the far side of the turret, especially in the case of the seventeen-pounder gun, which had a huge breech mechanism. To get him out required the gun barrel to be fully depressed so that he could get under and out from his position. All this had to be done after the tank had been hit, and the possibility of the thing going up in flames was the most important fear in the mind. Some would say that the escape hatch in the bottom of the turret was designed to evacuate the crew in the case of emergency, but in the case of fire it only fed more air to the flames or brought the engine compartment flames in with it.

    The tank in winter was exceedingly cold. To cool the huge multibank engine, air was drawn into a large grill directly behind the turret by a very large fan, drawing air into the radiator located directly in front of the engines. This system worked if all the hatches were closed. They seldom were, even in action; the front compartment generally was, but the turret maybe had one half hatch open for the tank commander's control, but rarely was fully battened down. In cold conditions air, to cool the engine, would also be drawn in through any of the open hatches, so whether the tank was static or moving, as long as the engine was running, cold or freezing air would be drawn into fighting quarters of the tank, and despite the special zip up suits we wore, we were always cold. In hot weather they were still cool with the added misery of dust and fumes being drawn in whilst driving in convoy.

    We had by now come to terms with fighting a war in tanks; though similar, it was very different to the exercises we took part in whilst training in England. There were never any casualties, only pretend ones. Referees took out the casualties as they played their games of military chess. Nobody fired a shot in anger, and somewhere around would always be a mobile kitchen. At the end of it all would be a warm billet to go back to, with all the lads to spin the bar.

    Across the Channel it was the real thing. Shots were fired in anger and it was a case of keeping heads or hulls down or you've had it! The 14 man pack and the tommy cooker replaced the mobile kitchen, and diets were varied occasionally with addition of locally rustled chicken or a poor old pig found in an abandoned farmhouse; there were very few billets to return to after the battle or action.

    Hygiene and the personal touches were primitive or non-existent. Washing, shaving and cleanliness took place under extreme conditions, generally at the back of the tank or in a shell-damaged building; sometimes a thoughtful mate would boil up a can of water and it would be shared round the tank crew for a wash and shave; so provided the razor blade was in fair nick, the day could be passed with facial comfort. That was indeed a luxury and mollycoddling.

    The toilet arrangements arising from the calls of nature, were very difficult to come to terms with. Hedgerows, trees or even the sparsest of cover had to serve on these occasions, and hampered with tank suits and equipment, this could be a terribly unpleasant experience as many times after such an incident, on struggling to replace one's cumbersome clothing, as you struggled to tuck the arms into these nightmarish garments, it was not unusual to get back what you thought you had got rid of. Not a very pleasant prospect for the crew either, as all who share confined spaces together know, they also share the smells and discomforts too.

    During an action or whilst engaging the enemy, the war does not stop to allow soldiers to jump out for a quick one. Far more important things are required of you, so inside a tank, some master-planner revised the use of a shell case, and happily the tank designers had devised an opening in side of a tank called a "Hatch". This was covered by a protective visor, and could be pushed open to allow the loader to jettison any misfires or faulty shells or ammunition that could have disastrous effects in case of explosion. The shell case as it was ejected from the breech after firing was very hot, so every crew kept a special purpose shellcase, one that long since cooled off, and this would be passed around inside the turret as each crew member reached bursting point; the hatch would then be opened and the contents poured out through the opening. Such a practical arrangement was not without its shortcomings, as many an unfortunate infantryman or in some quoted incidents, infantry officers, may recall, being on the receiving end of such a discharge as they followed alongside us in battle.

    The social life of the crew was at all times subject to temperament. Each person has his own way of dealing with things, a good tank commander could get the best out of each of us by making us confident in him. He was the boss we relied upon implicitly. His awareness of everything around him, his impartiality in dealing with our irritations, his sense of humour and his patience over our mistakes, and most of all, his unflappability. We all experienced fear, even he, but he never let it develop into panic. Apart from an odd one or two, relationships with our NCOs were excellent.

    Every member of the crew was a tradesman in his own right, gunners, drivers, loaders, wireless operators. We each relied on the others' skill when it was needed. The driver had to respond to his orders from the tank commander who was generally the only one in the tank who knew what was going on. The gunner was guided onto his target both in range and direction by the tank commander. The gunner's skill determined the outcome of the situation; if not, the driver had to get us out of the line of fire. The hull gunner had to keep all enemy infantrymen out of our hair, especially those who came at us with their Panzerfausts, whilst the wireless operator/loader had to ensure that the right round of ammunition was up the breech and keep up an intermittent conversation with callers who wanted us to do something or go somewhere or find out where we were. Our officers though at first tended to be rather aloof and kept their distance, later became less starchy and more responsive and mucked in extremely well as they became involved and isolated with their crews and troops in action. We trusted them completely and at the end of hostilities our respect for them was very high. We were proud to have served under them.

    The greatest enemy of the tankman and possibly all soldiers was tiredness. In action there was never any let up apart from being out of the line. During the action, because of the confinement inside the tank for long periods, the interrupted nature of the night-time when fighting stopped, apart from infantry patrols, a good night's sleep was impossible to obtain. Every night was the same.

    On pulling out of the line each evening, so much had to be prepared for the resumption of the following day's action. All tank commanders had to report for nightly Order Groups, during which all the day's activities, casualties, losses and experiences were recorded. Information and orders for the next day had to be issued and understood to enable the crews to be briefed on the return of their NCO in charge. After this, crew members were detailed off for duties on radio watch, guard duty or possible patrols to glean further information from the surrounding countryside. During this period the tanks had to be refuelled and all ammunition stocks brought back to normal with the arrival of F2 vehicle supply column carrying all the essential supplies needed to maintain a unit of Armoured Fighting Vehicles.

    After this was the digging of the sleeping trench, over which the tanks would be reversed to shelter the occupants from shelling, and finally before settling down to try for some sleep, always interrupted throughout the night by wireless watch and the absolutely necessary sentry duty, would be a meal cooked over a petrol cooker, the faithful Primus stove and a mug of Compo tea. The cold and damp, the interruptions throughout the nights, the lack of comfort of any shape or form and the constant erosion of the nerves tensed and stretched to the limit, most of each day and every day, took its toll. It is a tribute to those we served with in the most unromantic and soul destroying situations, that the quality of leadership and comradeship never faltered and was of the highest order.
  14. gpjeuken

    gpjeuken Member

    Thank you for posting, DBF.

    Once I asked the forum, What can tankcrew sie ??

    This is the answer for whole the question, even mutch more.

    Regards from Gerard from Holland.
  15. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    dbf likes this.
  16. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Hi Tom
    Thanks for confirming from your perspective as Churchill crewman that there were common experiences.

    When I read this one, I immediately think of your green envelopes story:

  17. redtop

    redtop Well-Known Member

    If a sensitive soul do not read on .
    My Fathers journals deal very much with the day to day life of a Gunner which touches on matters of the toilet..
    A couple of excerpts
    The first reference is to a Dysentery outbreak on USAT Borinquen, a troopship.
    The second to life in the western desert before Alamein

    Atlantic Convoy

    Then night closed in, pitch dark just a small blue light.
    I wanted to visit the toilet, I knew where it was, some two dozen pans, back to back in a square tiled room, and the floor was set down six inches from the door. After a second visit after 15 minutes there was lots of movement, hundreds of chaps were crowding to get in there.
    The chaps were on the move in more way than one sense.

    There was no room on the seats, I found an old square biscuit tin and put it in a corner and used that. Now the whole ship was alive with men running to make it there, on the fifth trip I groped about in the dark for my tin but lots of others had found it, it was full to overflowing with the green slime that was running from us, not that we could see the colour in the dark.
    My hand went into the full tin.
    Many did not make it to the toilet, many failed, the tiled floor was adrift with water slime. Officers crew the lot. Bottoms over the side along the passenger walk, everywhere and in the black of night you could not see who was doing what.

    Western desert

    Now when there was a lull we had to clear the gun site of any paper and burn or bury it. I took great exception to this RHA bullshit especially as the Eight Army Journal we had just had issued told us of the lovely time we were having, the merry chink of glasses in the bars, the entertainment, the dancing girls and so on.
    Flies were everywhere, up your nose, the corners of your mouth your eyes, ears millions of them and as you done your business at night they still found you
    But once a month you had a green envelope that we could send home direct without censor.
    I directed one of mine to the Eighth Army Journal.

    ”What about the Officers who go and have a bath at Mena, What about us supposed to be having a high old time, what if our wives hear it and what about the echelon whallas getting all the troop comforts and what about us running round the gun site picking up paper the last of the RHA bullshit.

    One day our CO Major Bill Norman came up.
    ”Come up to the Jeep Barney I want to talk to you“
    Yes Bill Norman Knew me well. I used to baby sit for him at Writtle, being a married man I suppose they thought I knew all about children.
    I was on his Battery and Regimental Guard and praised by General Horrocks for my turn out. I was also on the Special Guard that the King inspected before we left and was PT and boxing instructor on the boat. And there was the rollicking for dismissing the Officers.
    Yes he knew me well hence the Barney bit.
    ”I have a letter here from you, sent to the Eighth Army Journal, I want to go over it with you bit by bit,
    So and so and so and yes! “
    ”What’s this about Officers going for a bath, did you go with, how did you know,
    Echelon getting the comforts, well maybe“.
    Now picking up paper on the gun site! ”You think its bullshit do you? Right tell me what sort of paper is used here.“
    I said ”Wrapping of a kind“
    ”What else?“
    ”Army Form Blank“
    ”What is Army Form Blank used for?“
    ”To wipe your backside“ I replied
    ”Which way is the wind blowing?“
    ”From the enemy lines“ said I.
    ”Yes and it’s their paper they have put down a hole and the sand has
    moved and it blows to our position, and the flies eat it and get on our food and give us dysentery.
    And that is why you will pick it up and bury it without being told. That’s not bullshit its common sense.“
    I don’t know whose face was reddest CO Bill Norman or Acting PT and Boxing Instructor Burnikell.


    The water situation was acute (I gallon a day for 7 men) but we got used to it, we never wasted a drop. At night which was very cold we laid out our ground-sheets over a depression to create condensation and collect a small amount of water at the bottom, you might get ½ a pint. We pissed in a bucket and that went into the radiator of the quad.
    dbf likes this.
  18. researchingreg

    researchingreg Well-Known Member

    Were tanks always commanded by an N.C.O or a Commissioned Officer, or were Pte's ever tank commanders?
  19. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Invariably a Tank troop would start off in battle with a 2nd Lt - Lt - Captains even Majors - sergeants and corporals until

    casualties happened - then the wireless ops took over….most Tanks crews had some experience in all tasks and were interchangeable

    when we lost our troop leader - the w/op took over and asked permission to withdraw as the dead man had fallen over the gunner

    who couldn't use his guns- therefore the Tank was ineffective. Out of the six Tanks to start the battle - his was to survive only.
    it happened…

    Owen likes this.
  20. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    If my memory serves me rightly, all the tanks in "A" Sqdrn 4th QOH were commanded by at least a sergeant.

    My own particlular tank was a turretless Stuart "Honey" commanded by the Battery Sgt.Major.


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