By Richard Henry

Words:  6308

Date: 29/03/2021

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO 6 SA ARMOURED DIVISION

The establishment tables for an infantry division called for 24 000 men.  The Union Defence Forces were always short of men to volunteer to serve in the “teeth arms”.  An armoured division however only required 14 000 men and the South African General Staff favoured converting to an armoured division at the first opportunity.

On 1 February 1943, the 6 South African Armoured Division (6 Div) was officially formed under the command of Maj-Gen WHE Poole.   The division started to assemble at Zonderwater, north of Pretoria, with many experienced men from the Abyssinian Campaign as well as the Western Desert volunteering for service in the division.

Major General WHE Poole, 6 SA Armoured Division Commander

TRAINING AT KHATABTA

While the 6 South African Armoured Division (6 Div) was been formed, selected South African non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and officers underwent rigorous training in all aspects of armoured warfare at the Middle East Royal Armour School in Egypt.  Excellent training was run by British instructors. The newly trained men later formed the nucleus of the instructors for 6 Div training.  Preparation for the arrival of 6 Div was completed by the advance party who arranged accommodation, ablutions, food and cooking arrangements, some transport and all types of stores required.  6 South African Armoured Division‘s new home for the next nine months was to be at Khatatba.   Khatatba was 43 km north of Cairo and historically the village served as the point of departure from Cairo into the desert.

On Monday 19 April 1943 the division sailed from Durban, arriving at Port Tewfik, Egypt, on Friday 30 April.  From there they moved to their training area at Khatatba where they underwent nine months of intensive training.  The camp consisted of rows of tents on either side of a main tarred road which stretched for 15 kilometres into the desert.  The tents were well dispersed against possible but unlikely air attack by the Luftwaffe.  By the time the men arrived at the camp, the war in North Africa was over and attack by German aircraft, was very remote.   Along this road were also concrete ablution blocks, water towers and toilets for the men.

 

THE FORMATION OF THE 1st / 11th SOUTH AFRICAN ANTI-TANK REGIMENT

On 5 October 1943, General WHE Poole drew up a new order of battle plan (ORBAT).  The division still did not have sufficient men and many of the units were understrength.  Under the new ORBAT, the 1/11 Anti-Tank Regiment was made up of Western Desert survivors from the 1st Anti-Tank Regiment as the core.   They were amalgamated with many men from infantry regiments, such as the South African Irish Regiment.  Additional youngsters, who had just left school and a significant number of men from the Coastal Artillery, completed the compliment of the regiment.   Originally anti-tank units were essentially a defensive force of towed guns which were to fight off attacking enemy armour.  Their 2-pounder guns soon became obsolete against the increasing thickness of German armour and the 5 cm guns arming the Mk III tank.  By late 1943 the 2-pounder had been replaced by the 6-pounder (57 mm) anti-tank gun.

The Regiment consisted of four batteries commanded by Lt-Colonel G D Goodman.

 

TRAINING, TRAINING AND MORE TRAINING

The training at Khatatba was intense and detailed.  It started at the basics of physical fitness, drill, inspections and the use of small arms and machine guns and anti-gas training.  The lack of vehicles and equipment for training severely hampered the practical training.   Once basics was out of the way the  men got to known the 2-pounder and 6-pounder anti- tanks guns in detail with lectures on every aspect of these weapons.  Practical gunnery training was done on static anti-tank platforms dug into the desert sand.  Training initially was based on a defensive used of the anti-tank guns against German Panzerkampfwagens Mk III with a long barrelled 5 cm gun and the newer Mk IV with the 7.5 cm gun.  The best available anti-tank gun available for training was the Ordnance Quick-Firing 6-pounder 7cwt (better known as the 6- pounder). Later intensive training on all aspects of armoured and anti-tank warfare was included. , Wireless procedures, driving and vehicle maintenance, night movement, map reading, as well as and gun maintenance was learned.  During early training on the M10 Tank Destroyers the instructors repeatedly stressed the many critical aspects to operating the M10.  The task seemed formidable but as time passed, practice and training welded together and finally combined with crew friendship produced a truly efficient and effective crew.

South African crews training on the 6-pounder anti-tank gun.  Notice the Bren light machine gun, fired after the gunner had set his sights to show the gunner if he had aimed correctly.  Full calibre ammunition like everything else was in short supply. 

 

TRAINING COMPLETE BUT 6 DIV SHORT OF EQUIPMENT

The division finally completed their training with large exercises to test all aspects of their training.  The first of these was Exercise Cape Town from 1 to 3 December.  It was to test the battle readiness of the tank regiments making up the 11 Armoured Brigade.  All units could not simultaneously be involved as the division were still waiting for their full complement of vehicles.   This was followed by Exercise Durban from 5 to 7 December for the infantry units of 12th Motorised Brigade.  Exercise Zonderwater for the 11 Armoured Brigade started Tuesday 28 December 1943.  Training was concluded with Exercise Tussle consisting of an all arms exercise from 15 to 21 January 1944. By this date the division had most of their vehicles and equipment.  The South African senior officers and observing British officers were suitable impressed with the standard of the final exercise. The ‘enemy ‘in this exercise were the 1st and 4th Egyptian Brigades, 2nd Belgium Infantry Brigade, 11th Indian Infantry Brigade as well as the 10th Armoured Division.

The idea of training an armoured division on the wide open sands of Egypt for the close-country fighting of Europe did not surprise the troops.

 

ARRIVAL OF NEW EQUIPMENT

Twenty five American M10 Tank Destroyers were delivered to the 6 South African Armoured Division at Khatatba, Egypt.  The first ones arrived in late November 1943 and the final ones in January 1944. These formed part of the 1 128 delivered to the British under the Lend Lease programme.

When they were first viewed by the troops after been issued, the infantry and armour men had a standard question.  “What is that” “Some new tank called the M10, some call it the ‘Grouse’.  To which the anti-tank gunners would correct them. It’s not a tank but a Self-Propelled Gun.  “But it’s got a turret, S.P guns do not have turrets”   To the educated it would have been noticed that the new M10 had a 360 degree traversing turret but limited gun elevation of between 19 degrees and 10 degrees below the horizontal.  Self-propelled guns had a very limited traverse but a greater elevation of up to 45 degrees.

Trained M10 crews doing final preparation for the shipping of their vehicles to Italy from Alexandria.

 

 

POWER TRAIN

The M10 used a Sherman tank chassis as the basic vehicle.  It was powered by General Motors 6046 twin in line diesel engine with a maximum power output of 280 Kw at 2 100 rpm.  The South African ones, were twenty five of the 4 493 manufactured at the Fisher Body Division of General Motors, situated at Grand Blanc, Michigan, USA.  The 1 128 M10s for Lend Lease, were probably made from September to December 1943 most under contract T- 7581 with serial numbers in the range 7108 – 7983.  It appears that USA registration numbers were not issued to these vehicles as they were made for Lend Lease and issued to the British.

 

AMMAMEMT

The main gun was the naval M7 gun with a calibre of three inches (76.2 mm) in an open topped turret.  The gun was in fitted in an M 5 mount.  The barrel was long and heavy and caused balance and traverse problems.  This was rectified by fitting a wedge shaped counterweight of 1 680 kg to the rear of the turret.  When the gun was fired it had an ear shattering whip like crack which caused considerable damage to the crew’s ears.  While travelling on the road, the barrel always faced rearwards over the engine decking and was nestled in its special cradle.

 

ARMOUR PROTECTION

Because of the M10’s envisaged role, the armour protection was generally light but was different to the Sherman tank.   It was well sloped to add to the armour protection.  The two parts which would normally face the enemy were the thickest.  The glacis plate, had 38 mm of armour angled at 55 degrees and the gun mantlet was 57 mm thick.   The side and rear of the hull had only 19 mm of armour while the engine decking only 9.5 mm.   The sloped armour on the sides of the M10 gave it a distinctive appearance which also made it 430 mm wider than the Sherman tank.   This extra width made it very difficult for drivers to negotiate the narrow Italian village streets.  The mass of the vehicle with the heavy engine and turret counterweight was close to 30 000 kg and this reduced its maximum speed to 48 km/h on a good road. The maximum road range was about 300 km on the 625 litre diesel fuel tanks.

M10s were too wide for many of the Italian village streets

The roof was left open to save mass and allow a wider field of view to spot the enemy.  It also allowed for quicker ammunition stowage, emergency escape and better communications with the infantry on the ground.

 

COMMUNICATIONS

The standard British and British Commonwealth wireless set for armoured vehicles from 1940 was the № 19 wireless set.  This large set had a mass of about 40 kg.  It was a wireless receiver and had three communication channels.

  • The A set was for long range communications. It was used by the troop commander’s vehicle to communicate with the battery headquarters (HQ) which was in a M9A1 halftrack.  The battery HQ also used the same set talk to the regimental HQ.  The range was about 16 km.   This was drastically reduced to about 900 m when the M10 s was moving.
  • The B set was for use within the M10 troop of four vehicles.
  • The IC (intercom) channel was used within each individual vehicle. This was used for the crew commander to a talk to any of the crew or the crew to talk back to any of the other crew members.  This channel was required as the M10 was extremely noisy when moving and if the gun was fired, voice communication would be nearly impossible.

A lance bombardier was the wireless operator within the M10.  He was also the assistant driver and sat behind the glacis plate on the right of the vehicle.  The crew commander could also operate on all three channels.

The other members of the crew – driver, gunner and loader, could only use the intercom.  If the commander was busy on one of the other nets and the driver need to draw the attention of the commander to a possible dangerous situation, he could push a button which would light up on the commanders wireless control box.

The vehicle batteries could only be charged by running the engine and the wireless drew power from the vehicle batteries.  So to preserve the vehicle batteries while in the static position or when harbouring overnight or for an extended period, a field telephone was as used for communications.

For all the M10s in a battery to communicate with to each other, a thin assault wire, of mass 8.5 kg per km was strung or laid between vehicle field telephones.  Another wire linked the battery commander to regimental commander, just as long the distance did not exceed the operation distance of about 8 km.  The assault wire consisted of three stands of steel wire and four strands of copper wire. These wires were twisted together and had a breaking strength of 34 kg but were often broken by vehicles snarling overhead wires or churning up buried cables.  Sometimes they were broken by mortar or shell fire.

In mobile warfare the number one, who was usually a sergeant, riding on the back of the M10 for better observation would shout out instructions to his crew.

 

SIGHTING

Initially the M10 and had fire controls limited to a direct fire model M51 or M70 G telescope, as the main perceived target was enemy armour.  As the main role of the M10 changed to indirect fire support, during the winter months of 1944, an azimuth indicator and gunners quadrant was introduced as had been done in the American vehicles.  North of Florence the role of the M10s was mostly for fire support and close support for the infantry.  In these situations the M10s would take care of machine gun nests or light artillery.   Once the winter set in and the M10s became static, some of the more intelligent men were sent on and an Observation Post Assistants course.  This enabled them to survey the location of their guns.  With keen observation from a concealed high point they were able to direct accurate fire onto the German positions.

 

AMMUNITION

Fifty-four rounds of 3-inch ammunition were carried in the M10.  Forty eight rounds were stored in four racks in the hull sponson.  For immediate use six rounds were kept ready at the rear of the turret.

The 3-inch M7 could fire five types of ammunition:  The 3-inch Mark II, M2 cartridge case for each of the projectiles was the same.  It was 585 mm long (longer than the case for the 76 mm Sherman).   The case contained a propelling charge of 2.21 kg of M1 class powder.  One of the manufacturers of this ammunition was Maxims Munitions Company (MMC).

  1. M79 Armour Piercing Tracer Shot. This solid steel projectile was fired at a muzzle velocity of about 850 m/sec.  The tracer element at the rear of the shot burned and indicated the trajectory and land of the shot.  It could penetrate up to 92 mm of armour, sloped at 30 degrees from the vertical at a range of 914 m.
  1. The M62/M62A1 Armour Piercing Capped Ballistic Capped/High Explosive Shell with Tracer. This had a mass of 7 kg which left the barrel at 792 m/sec.  It had a sharply pointed projectile with a cap which facilitated penetration of the armour plate before the shell exploded.  It could penetrate 88 mm of armour at a 30 degree slope to the vertical at a range of 914 m.  The land of the shell was also indicated by the burning tracer element.  This projectile was superior to the one fired by the German Panzer mark IV.

 

  1. The M42A1 High Explosive shell had a mass of 5.84 kg. It was filled with either 390 grams of TNT (Trinitrotoluene) or a 50/50 mix of Amatol and TNT.  The shell was fused with an M48 impact fuse.  It was fired at a muzzle velocity of 853 m/sec.  It was used for indirect artillery fire or against fortifications and soft targets like infantry in trenches or anti-tank guns.  The light shell and small explosive charge made it ineffectual against most enemy targets.  The maximum range was about 14 700 m.  Up until the end of 1944 the ammunition used by the South Africans gave an almighty 7 m flash from the muzzle of the gun.  This flash was often visible in the day to the Germans who fired retaliatory fire at the flash position.   Night firing from the M10s was visible for miles.  From early 1945, flash-proof ammunition was issued which reduced this threat considerably.

 

Added to the above ammunition for the M7 gun the flowing was also carried:

200 rounds of .303 calibre rifle ammunition for the crews Lee Enfield service rifles.

A Thompson sub-machine gun with .45 ACP ammunition

The sergeant and bombardier also carried a long barrelled .38 Smith & Wesson revolver with 25 rounds of ammunition each.

For anti-aircraft fire the M10 had a turret mounted .50 M2 Browning Heavy Machine Gun.  This could only be fired when the main gun was not in use as the Browning was at the rear of the main gun and the Browning firer would be injured by the heavy recoil of the M7 gun.  The crew commander usually operated the Browning when required.

300 Rounds of .50 calibre (12.7 x 99 mm) ammunition for the anti-aircraft M2 Browning Heavy Machine Gun was carried.    These were stored in six boxes of 50 rounds each on the floor of the vehicle and carried a mixture of Ball, Tracer (red tipped), Armour Piercing (back tipped) and  Phosphorous (blue tipped) rounds able to penetrate 19 mm of armour at 500 m.

Two M36 Fragmentation grenades (Mills Bombs) were also carried in the turret.

The muzzle flash from the M10s was visible for miles and the Germans always responded

 

CREW AND FIGHTING COMPARTMENT LAYOUT OF THE M10

The crew of the M10 Tank destroyer normally consisted of five men.  A six man, the troop sergeant, sometime rode on the back of the M10 engine decking.  The vehicle commander (often a bombardier) sat on a folding seat to the right rear of the turret.  The gunner stood or sat on the left side of the gun, and aimed the gun using the direct fire M51 telescope. He had to use the slow hand traversing wheel to turn the main gun onto target.   The gun loader stood to the right rear right of the gun able to quickly load one of the six ready rounds at the turret rear.  The driver, sat behind the glacis plate on the front left of the M10.  His vision was through a periscope through the glacis plate when in combat. He was responsible for driving the M10 and listening to his commanders instructions via the intercom channel.  A lance bombardier, behind the glacis plate on the right side was mainly responsible for operating the radio and undertaking the required vehicle maintenance at halts and over-night stops.  He also ran the vehicle engine during halts to charge the vehicle’s batteries. If needed, he also acted as the co-driver also shared some of the driving duties.   The M10 was very noisy when driving.  Crew member reported that a four hour drive in the M10 was very tiring and similar ten hours of pick and shovel work.

Crews were very reliant on each man performing his duties quickly and efficiently.  Crews from different backgrounds had to adjust to one another in the close working environment because their lives depended on it.

The open topped turret made the crews vulnerability to mortar fire, small arms fire, hand grenades, and shrapnel from air burst artillery fire.  Exposure to wind, rain, snow and freezing temperatures also made operations difficult, and crews covered the turret with tarpaulins to improve their comfort and their operational effectiveness.

For large maintenance tasks, such as removing a track link, the crews often had to use the pioneer tools such as axe, crowbar or sledgehammer situated at the rear of the vehicle.   More routine adjusting the tension of the tracks was done by a large 3-inch (76.2 mm) spanner.

 

THE BATTERIES

The first battery was made up of men of the Rhodesian 4th Anti-Tank Battery and was re-designated as the 1/22 Battery.  They were equipped with the Ordnance Quick-Firing 6-pounder 7cwt gun and 17-pounder towed anti-tank gun.  Gun crew were five per gun.   By the beginning of June 1944, during the advance of the division on Rome, the battery had twenty 17-pounder guns. The battery compliment when fully staffed was about 120 men and was commanded by Major G Savory.

The 2/23 Battery under the command of Major W Mc Pott consisted of two troops.  The troops were called ‘’S” and “T” troops.  Each troop had four M10 tank destroyers plus the below mentioned supporting and command staff.   It is not known if the vehicles of this battery gave individual names starting with the letter S or T to their M10s.

The 3/24 Battery was mostly made up from men of the South African Railways and Harbours Brigade and was commanded by Major G B Cochrane. They too had had eight M10s – four in “U” Troop and four in “V” Troop. Some of the individual M10 names used by this battery were Umedlozi II and Umzimvubu and Vagabond and Venture.

The crew of five plus the troop sergeant of the M10 Umzimvubu

 

The fourth battery (4/25 Battery) likewise had eight M10 tank destroyers – four in “W” Troop and four in “Z” Troop.  The known individual names for this battery were Wasp and Zulu There was one extra M10 tank destroyer which was used in reserve and for training.

Each of the three M10 batteries was self-contained and had its own supporting vehicles.  Each Battery Commander had his own M9A1 halftrack carrying his headquarters.  The Battery Sergeant Major and the two Troop Sergeants each had a jeep for their use.   Each troop also had a despatch rider on a motorcycle for collecting and delivering high priority signals and orders.  There were two three-ton ammunition trucks – one for each troop, one water truck, one General Stuart (Honey) light tank, and two Universal Carriers – one per troop.  Therefor a fully staffed M10 battery would have a compliment of about 70 men.

One of the batteries in harbour for a few days.  The range of vehicles used by a battery is evident.

 

CAMOUFLAGE AND MARKINGS

The first paint instructions for the 6 Div vehicles were issued in April 1943.  At this time the division had few vehicles.  The first batch of armoured vehicles such as a few Crusader and Sherman tanks as well as at least one Grant tank were painted in the authorised camouflage pattern of a base coat of Light Mud with a Blue-Black (colour SCC 14 ) disruptive pattern.  These vehicles were used for the division’s initial training.   At the end of October 1943 the division had only 45 serviceable vehicles.

When the new American Lend Lease equipment arrived at Khatatba from late November 1943 they were painted in the standard American Olive Drab colour.   On 2 December 1943, the 11th Armoured Brigade made comments about the painting of the new American armoured vehicles.   “New Sherman Vs from the USA with low mileage are stripped of kit, overhauled and re-camouflaged before re-kitted and issue”.  This repainting is believed to been the authorised Light Mud with Blue-Black disruptive pattern.  The few photographs of the M10s shortly after this date show the same camouflage pattern applied to these tank destroyers.

A M10 moving along route 325, South of the 6 SA Armoured Division Headquarters at Castiglione dei Pépoli, early October 1944.  The camouflage pattern is shown. 

 

 

After all the training exercises were completed it was uncertain where the division would be deployed.  On 23 January the fully trained division moved to Helwan where they waited patiently to be deployed and itched for action.  The division had over 3 500 men who had experienced battle before and who wore the Afrika Star ribbon with pride.  By now, the division had been in Egypt for 11 months due to indecision related to its role.  On 3 March 1944, the division was instructed to move to Palestine and the advance parties left on 7 March. On 12 March however, this movement order was countermanded and the division was instructed to move to Italy. It is believed that once the division’s destination was known, the Lend Lease vehicles which may not have been correctly painted up until then were camouflaged in the Light Mud and Blue-Black disruptive pattern. 

Tactical Markings

The official markings called for an eight inch square white background with the 6 SA Armoured Division Flash in the centre of the white square.  The flash consisted of a green equilateral triangle, 1 ½ (32 mm) inches wide and six inches high (150 mm) and within the green triangle a gold (yellow) triangle.  This patch was painted on the left front of the vehicle.

On the right front of the vehicle was am eight inch square patch.  The top half was in a maroon red, the bottom half in blue.  Over both the red and blue halves was the number “77” six inches high and painted in white.  The “77”was the standard vehicle number for all British anti-tank units.

The vehicle’s individual name, starting with the letter of the respective troop was painted in white   at the rear of the turret duck billed counter weight

Normally the American registration numbers were painted in white on both the left and right rear of the hull.  As the South African vehicles were from the Lend Lease scheme, no American registration number was issued.

 

 

 

OFF TO ITALY

The division embarked at Alexandria, Egypt between Friday 14 and Sunday 16 April 1944.  The destination for the soldiers was the small harbour town of Taranto in inside heel of Italy.  They arrived on 20 and 21 April.  The armoured vehicles were sent to the larger harbour at Bari, where they were offloaded onto railway trucks, to await their movement to the front lines.   The personnel went into billets in the Italian towns of Altamura, Gravina and Matera.  Some of the personnel obviously went to Bari to oversee the offloading and loading of the equipment onto the railway trucks.

The 12th Infantry Brigade reconnaissance party moved up to the front line from 23 April with the infantry following on at the end of the month.

The M10s moved from Bari by rail on 16 May 1944, up the Adriatic Sea coast up to Barletta, then going inland to Foggia which was a major Allied air field.  From here they move by rail in a south westerly direction, over the Apennines to Benevento and onto their holding area at Sant Agata de Goti near Caserta. The rail distance was about 300 km which took two days to travel.  The division formed the British 8th Army reserve at this time.  They started to move from this position to the front on 26 May.

 

IN TO THE FIGHT

On their arrival they that the found stubborn German defence of the Gustav line, in the Cassino area had been broken by the Allies.  The Liri Valley up to Rome was now open.  As with all good soldiers the German withdrawal to their next prepared defensive line, North of Rome was covered by German delaying forces.  Many bridges and culverts had been blown up and the Germans had mined tactical access positions.  6 SA Armoured Division, now a fresh, fully equipped division were eager for the advance but had to wait for the Americas to occupy the road up the valley first.     They were involved in minor mopping up operations in the 120 km advance on Rome.  The division bypassed the eastern outskirts of Rome on 6 June.  Rome was declared an open city with no fighting taking place to preserve the city’s history.

 

ROME TO FLORENCE AND BEYOND

North of Rome, the Allies found the German delaying tactics more aggressive.  The terrain was not conducive to tank warfare and the German armour was used to cover road passes over which 6 Div would have to cross.

Between Rome and Florence the M10s knocked out a few German Mk IV tanks and some self-propelled guns.  Four M10s also engaged and knocked out a Tiger tank.   Mostly, however the batteries did not fight in the intended way of destroying attacking German tanks as the Italian terrain was not suited to tank warfare and the Germans used small number of tanks to cover their defensive positions.

 

Some of these actions are recorded below:

In the advance on Chiusi, on Wednesday 21 June 1944, the 3/24 Battery was placed under command of Lt Col Reeves-More who were the advance party of the 11th Armoured Brigade.  On this day they engaged a tank (Tiger) at Cetona, 5 km south west of the hilltop village of Chiusi.  Many of the villages in this area are ancient and were built on hill tops for defence in days gone by.  These villages had to be cleared of Germans by the infantry of 12th SA Motorised Brigade.  The artillery was there to support the infantry and the M10s formed part of the artillery.

A troop of M10s from 2/23 Battery supported the main forces of 12th SA Motorised Brigade during their advance on the Lucignano on 3 July.   The Germans new defensive line was known as the Hilde Line.

On Monday 3 July a troop of M10s in support of the Natal Mounted Rifles in reconnaissance General Stuart Tanks and two troops of C Squadron Pretoria Regiment armed with 75 mm Sherman tanks, fired on a Tiger tank a few Panzerkampfwagen Mark IV Specials and at least two 75 mm Stugs at the road junction west of the town of Sinalunga.

On Sunday 23 July, the M10s were involved in supporting fire for the infantry of Coldstream Guards  who were ordered to attack  a heavily the heavily defended crest of Monte Domini,  5 km west of Greve in Chianti,  This town, south of Florence was the scene of some heavy fighting.

Later two M10s supported A Squadron, Special Service Battalion, armed with Sherman tanks when up to eleven Tiger tanks fired on the SSB squadron north of the Greve on 26 July 1944.

At the end of July, a troop of M10s were attached as close support for the Guards Brigade’s attack on Impruneta which was held by the German 4th Parachute Division.    After reaching the outskirts of Florence on 27 July and entering some part of the city at the beginning of August, the division was withdrawn.   From 6 August the division was withdrawn from the front line for rest and recuperation at Castelnuovo Berardenga for three weeks.

In preparation for the crossing of the Arno River, west of Florence, the 2/23 Battery was allocated to support the 12th SA motorised Brigade while the 3/24 battery were to be close support of the 11th Armoured Brigade and the 4/25 battery in close support of the British 24th Guards Brigade.

From September, heavy rain started to fall and the battlefield became very muddy, which made travelling in the tracked vehicles difficult.   Winter was closing in.  North of Florence the role of the M10s was mostly for fire support and close support for the infantry.  In these situations the M10s would take care of machine gun nests or light artillery.   Once the winter set in and the M10s became static, some of the more intelligent men were sent on and Observation Post Assistants course.  This enabled them to survey the location of their guns.  With keen observation from a concealed high point they were also able to direct accurate fire onto the German positions.

 

 

 

 

WINTER

During the winter months, men from 1/11 Anti-Tank Regiment were employed as infantry in a holding role around Monte Stanco.   Men acted as muleteers, bringing rations and equipment up the steep stopes to men in the front lines. Other men were employed as road builders, jeep train drivers and stretcher bearers.  The unit was also issued with field artillery instruments so that the M10s could be used in the indirect fire role.   Still the division suffered from a lack of manpower and many units were amalgamated.  During the winter static winter months, the divisional artillery found the time for change and reorganization.  A Survey Troop for flash-spotting and sound-ranging was formed in November.  Members of the 1/11 also under went training on these aspects as the M10s were to be used in support fire as soon the advance was started in early spring.  Some of the M10s were supplied with indirect fire sighting equipment. The batteries were most often used in a fragmented way as fire support vehicles especially in the winter in the Apennines.

 

SPRING 1945

In April, and the coming of Spring and the final South African offensive in Italy,  the 2/23 Battery was again allocated to be in support of the 12th SA Motorised Infantry Brigade.  The 3/24 battery was allocated in support of the 11th Armoured Brigade.  The advance was rapid once the German defensive positions in the Apennines were broken.  6 Div bypassed the city of Bologna leaving it for the Italian partisans to deal with the remaining Italian Black Shirts.   North West of Bologna they encountered a few Stugs in the rich, canal watered, farmlands around San Giovanni.  After a drive on Venice on the east side of Italy they were called back to Milan where there was still some last ditch defiance from the fascists Black Shirts.   On the 2 May 1945 the 6 SA Armoured Division was at Gorgonzola, north east of Milan after a dash of over 250 km from Venice.  The war in Italy official ended on 2 May 1945.  General Evert Poole, General Officer Commanding the 6 South African Armoured Division, organised a Victory Parade of all the men and equipment of the division at the near-by Monza race track.

   The M10s from the 1/11 anti-tank regiment waiting to enter the Monza Race Track on 14 May 1945.

END OF THE WAR

The men had twelve days to wash, clean, repaint, and added markings to their vehicles in preparation for this final Victory Parade of 6 Div.   Monza race track is about 20 km north of the Milan city centre.  On a sunny Monday 14 May 1945, the division drove their vehicles past the saluting base.  The salute was taken by General Poole.  Also on the saluting base were General Mark Clark, commander of the US 5th Army and the acting South African minister of defence, Commodore FC Sturrock.  The twenty four M10s splendid in their new livery raised their barrels in salute as they passed the saluting base, three abreast and eight in line.

The Victory Parade at Monza Race Track was a fitting celebration to the fighting effort of the M10s from the 1/11 Anti-Tank Regiment

 

PREPATAION FOR SHIPPING TO THE UNION

Thereafter the M10s were handed in to the vehicle park, which was formed at the Monza race track. A new 6 South African Armoured Division Vehicle Park under the command of Major Tubby Fordred (ex SSB) was formed close to the harbour area in Genoa.  The vehicles and equipment at Monza were railed to the park at Genoa.  Guards were required to protect the equipment from theft by the local black market operatives.   Petrol and tyres were of great value and quite a lot was stolen from the park.  Those men who may have formed a romantic relationship with Italian women were keen to be allocated to the vehicle park so as to stay in Italy a while longer. Shipping of the equipment used by South African was low priority for the American and British allies.  First the American equipment had to be shipped then the British equipment and then only the equipment used by 6 Div.

The wheeled and tracked vehicles had to be prepared for shipping.  If new spare equipment such as engines and gearboxes were available, these were fitted to the old vehicles to make them like new.  Union Defence Forces registration numbers were allocated and painted on the vehicles.  The full Table of Tools and Equipment (TOTE) was supplied to each vehicle if they could be found from the masses of crated spares in the vehicle park.  The M10s were prepared as listed above and weighed for shipping.  Each of the Liberty Ships which would be transporting 6 Div.’s equipment back to Durban was able to carry a certain load in a prescribed manner in each of the ship holds.  The loading had to be balanced.

Authority to ship the British manufactured equipment was easily obtained.  The Lend Lease equipment such as the General Sherman Tanks and the M10 tank destroyers had to be approved by the Americans.  For approval, South Africa had to work through the British authorities.    A sea transport Department Stowage Plan was prepared for the equipment by the Lt CT McFarlane, the Shipping Officer for 6 Div.

On 30 April 1946, the twenty four 3-Inch Gun Motor Carriage M10 (Grouse) Self-Propelled guns were recorded as ready for shipping on McFarlane’s shipping schedule.

The shipping schedule dated 14 August 1946 has the twenty four M10s removed from the list.   No information has been found as to why these were removed from the shipping schedule.  It can only be that the Americans refused to allow the South Africans to keep the twenty four M10 Tank Destroyers they had used throughout the Italian Campaign.

 

CONCLUSION

The use by the 1/11 Anti-Tank Regiment of twenty four M10 American Tank Destroyers is not well known.  It is hoped that this article sheds some light on this forgotten aspect of the UDF in Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

Books:

Crow, D, (ed)      Armoured Fighting Vehicles of the World, Volume 4.  American AFV of World War II                          Profile Publications, Windsor, 1972

Mesko, J                M3 Half-tracks in Action.             Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications,                                       1996

Orpen, N              South African Forces in World War II Voll V  Victory in Italy            Purnell, Cape                                     Town, 1975

Zaloga, S              M10 and M36 Tank Destroyers 1942 -53                Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2002

Internet:

Wikipedia:           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tank_destroyer_battalion_(United_States)

Wikipedia:           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M10_tank_destroyer

Wikipedia:           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M3_Gun_Motor_Carriage

Wikipedia :          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autocar_Company

Wikipedia:           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6th_Armoured_Division_(South_Africa)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khatatba

https://www.ajol.info/index.php/smsajms/article/view/89170/78724

file:///C:/Users/RichardH/Downloads/89170-Article%20Text-222709-1-10-20130528%20(1).pdf

Articles:

Kleynhans, E                       in Scientia Militaria Vol 40 No3 Pages 250-279

Starmer, M                         British Middle East Colours.  Tunisia Sicily and Italy 1943-1945,   self-                                                        published, Piddington, UK, 2006

Unpublished Article:

Campbell, GD, Dr              The “Grouse” M10           unpublished, 1989

 

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