Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A strange Bird

This article has been written when I asked for ideas earlier in the week on Facebook. James Panganiban suggested this topic and as I have an excellent book which touches on the subject, it sounded like a plan. The reason why I'm asking for ideas is because after doing this for about three years I've covered most of the ideas that come easily to mind. So now it's more a case of looking for something interesting to write about with sufficient sources. So please, if you have any ideas, or requests send them in!

The 6th Guards Tank Brigade, which included the 4th Coldstream Guards, landed in France on the 20th of July 1944, and rolled immediately into action. Three weeks later the Brigade was no longer green, they had ripened, and they certainly smelled it! After three weeks the Germans had started the great retreat across France. For the 6th Guards it was time to rest and refit.. and to wash. During this two weeks of resting they even had a visit from George Formby as part of an ENSA show.
 Meanwhile two officers got a bit lost while touring the countryside and ended up in Paris, a few hours before it officially surrendered.
The "refit" part of rest and refit however was where the interesting stuff happened. The brigade intelligence officer collected a number of fitters and disappeared. They moved to an area of the Falaise Gap, in between Chambois and Trun. The group was split up into smaller groups and given an area to work where they catalogued all the enemy equipment in the area. A significant portion of it had just been abandoned, not destroyed. The aim was to create a Panther platoon for the brigade. One Panther was found, and the intelligence officer even drove it, heading back to the brigade. He got as far as Flers, but for some undisclosed reason the project was dropped. However the brigade did end up with two wireless command cars, a welding plant and several German telephones and typewriters.
On the 12th of October 1944 a division of artillery launched a massive, but short bombardment aimed at German positions in the area around Overloon. The Coldstreams launched their attack at about midday, through countryside that had been waterlogged, but prepared (at least initially) by the Royal Engineers. Initially everything went well, however on the outskirts of Overloon things began to go wrong. The Coldstreams had two squadrons forward, each accompanying a battalion of infantry. The issue was the infantry, neither of the battalions wanted to plough into Overloon, as fighting in cities, even with tank support is a bloody and unpleasant business. So the two infantry units went around both sides of the town which meant they dragged their supporting tank squadrons with them. The HQ troop following behind trying to keep in contact with both of its forward squadrons now found itself drawn forward and in the front line facing Overloon. To make matters worse they ran into newly designed German anti-tank mines, which were more than capable of penetrating a Churchill's armour. The first two tanks to be hit were the rear link, and spare rear link, then the battalion commander's tank. In the latter case he was unwounded and continued on foot with the infantry, only to be cut off shortly afterwards by the fighting.
Then a pair of Churchill's were knocked out by a Panther tank. On the other flank there were mines and these were covered by anti-tank guns which started knocking out tanks. However during a fierce afternoon of fighting one flank managed to push into the outskirts of the town, and a gap was cleared in the mines in front of Overloon allowing the HQ tanks to move into the town and link up with the battalion commander and the infantry he was with.
The next morning, Friday the 13th, a new plan was formed. The Coldstreams with support of two squadrons of Grenadier Guards would mount a large push to the south of Overloon. Bitter fighting followed including on one occasion a British tank commander dismounting and fighting off German infantry with his service revolver. Throughout the day, and the next day the Churchill's carried on running into Panthers and losing men and machines. However the Germans were always forced back from their positions. In Overloon, in a barn, the Coldstreams found an abandoned but fully working Panther tank. Remembering the earlier idea of a Panther troop they took this lost tank under their wing.
She was named Cuckoo. All the vehicles of the command group in the Coldstreams were named after birds, for example the battalion commander's tank was called "Eagle", a  armoured command vehicle was "Vulture", and they had scout cars named "Pigeon", "Wren" and "Owlet", to name but a few. Keeping with this ornithological theme "Cuckoo" seemed to fit a German tank in a British unit.
Look at the rear most tank
Cuckoo's wartime exploits are difficult to find, she first gets a mention in the reduction of the Geijsteren, a castle in Holland which was surrounded by a moat, flood water and mud, with its bridge blown and the causeway leading to it covered by German guns. The British after seeing the results of a similar attack decided it would be easier to just reduce it with fire-power, and set about this on the 27th of November. Here Cuckoo's long gun is singled out for praise as it was able to smash shells with unerring accuracy through windows and loopholes. Despite the Coldstreams shooting at it nothing much was achieved, so on the 28th the Allies prepared for a shooting party.
At 0900 the festivities got under way with the entirety of two squadrons firing for the first two hours. Then the Royal Artillery took over until a break for lunch. During lunch several visitors showed up, including a group of Typhoon pilots who came to see the action.
The afternoon was kicked off again with the artillery. This time a 5.5" gun was used in direct contact with quite some impressive effects. The Germans then got into to the swing of things by firing some high velocity HE shells over the head of the observing VIP's.
Then a flight Of Typhoons attack with bombs and cannon, however the second pilot mistimed his drop and landed his bombs closer to the visitors than the castle. The Typhoon pilots after enjoying this pleasant day out were rather sceptical of how hard life in the field was. So the Germans, once again obligingly landed a very heavy mortar barrage on the VIP's. It took some time to persuade them to climb out of the muddy holes they'd  found after the barrage was over.
The final picture of Cuckoo
Cuckoo next appears during the attack on Putt where her ability to handle the ice even better than the Churchill's was noted. Here the Germans didn't put up much resistance after the Scots guards set up on a hill overlooking Putt and bombarded it with such ferocity they removed all the snow. The Coldstreams pushed into the town and the Germans instantly surrendered. Cuckoo's demise was somewhere near Cleve on the 21st of February 1945. Her fuel pump broke down irreparably. With no replacement she had to be abandoned.

Image Credits:
 odkrywca.pl, www.strijdbewijs.nl, www.warrelics.eu and www.ww2incolor.com.