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To War With The Bays: 25 - God Give Me Courage

....By 8 p.m. we were in position, and I wrote in my diary:There's a glorious sunset tonight. What a mad world. Who would think we're on the eve of a great battle - perhaps the fiercest weve been in yet. May it be Gods will that I come through these few days alive. If I have to die, Im not afraid, but my heart aches for Jessie and my mother and dad. God comfort them. Above all I pray to God that He will bring Ronnie through this safely, so that he and Emily will be able to live happily together for many years. God give me courage...

Jack Merewood readies himself for one of the most famous battles of World War Two.

The Americans named their tanks after Civil War generals. We had General Stuart, then General Grant and now we had General Sherman. The Sherman tanks were the best we'd had, and we fought in them from the Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 to the end of the war.

Although the big gun had a 75 mm bore like that of the Grant, it had a much longer barrel and was more powerful. With the Shermans we were getting nearer to matching the German tanks, though they were later to introduce the Tiger, with armour on the front about a foot thick and an 88 mm gun, a deadly weapon, the same as they used as an anti-aircraft gun. We held the Tiger tank in respect, and fear.

The arrangement of the crew in a Sherman was different from that of our previous tanks. There was a crew of five. Next to the driver sat the 'scatter-gunner', who had a Browning machine-gun. The 75 mm was in the turret, and to its left another Browning. The wireless was on a shelf across the back of the turret, and the operator also loaded both guns, which were fired by the gunner from two buttons on the floor by his left foot.

The 75 mm had a recoil of about two feet, and a metal guard was attached to it for protection against being hit as the gun came back. A canvas bag was fastened underneath this. The breech had first to be opened by hand by pulling a lever to lower the breech-block. There were two small projections, one at each side of the breech and when a shell was pushed into the gun the protruding rim on the shell-case tripped these so that the breech block came up and closed the breech.

When the gun was fired, it recoiled, and then the breech reopened automatically. The empty shell-case was thrown out, and with a clang hit the guard and dropped into the bag. The noise was deafening, and the tank would fill with the acrid fumes of the gunpowder.

In a circle all around the turret were 75 mm shells, held by spring clips so they could be quickly pulled out and loaded. A small framework at the side of the machine-gun held an ammunition box, the ammunition being in a belt which was threaded into the gun, and then as the gun was fired the belt automatically fed through. About every eighth bullet was a tracer which lit up when fired so that the gunner could see where the bullets were going.

Two or three more boxes of ammunition were in the turret, then more boxes and 75 mm shells were stored underneath the floor - accessible by a trap-door. There was also a mortar in the turret, this to be used to fire smoke bombs if we wanted to cover up our positions or retreat.

While I had been away, the regiment had suffered a considerable number of casualties in the retreat to El Alamein. When I rejoined I saw a lot of new faces, recruits who had arrived from England to bring the regiment up to full strength. Among them was Colin Rawlins from Bridport in Dorset.
I was glad to see Jimmy Turner, Ted Ryan, Bob Buckland, Harold Balson and other familiar faces. Besides Nobby Clarke, the tank commander, our driver was George Brooker, scatter-gunner Ted Ryan and wireless operator Ron Grist.

The days in October were spent driving the new Shermans and firing the guns. Because of the sand it was essential to be constantly stripping down, cleaning and oiling the guns. To clean the barrel we had a long rod with a brush on the end. The rod unscrewed into two pieces, and it sometimes came in handy when making a 'bivvy' at the side of the tank. When we stopped for any length of time camouflage nets were spread over the tanks to eliminate the shadow cast by the sun, this making it more difficult to be spotted by enemy aircraft.

We were told that on 23 October we were to launch an all-out offensive. On that date I wrote in my diary: 'Well, now dawns the great day. Troop Leader gave us all the "dope" at 8 a.m., then at 9.30 a.m. church parade. After dinner got tank all fixed up for the beginning of the fight. Played cards in afternoon. Supposed to sleep but none of us can.'

During the day we gradually moved forward, then along a track which had been cleared through one of our minefields. Ahead lay a German minefield, and when the Regiment came to it, the tanks lined up along the edge, nose to tail.

By 8 p.m. we were in position, and I wrote in my diary:There's a glorious sunset tonight. What a mad world. Who would think we're on the eve of a great battle - perhaps the fiercest weve been in yet. May it be Gods will that I come through these few days alive. If I have to die, Im not afraid, but my heart aches for Jessie and my mother and dad. God comfort them. Above all I pray to God that He will bring Ronnie through this safely, so that he and Emily will be able to live happily together for many years. God give me courage.

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