Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Gift of a Tank

This article was suggested by James Panganiban a couple of weeks ago. If you have any suggestions, feel free to make them, although I don't guarantee I'll do them. I'm always looking for good stories to write about.
 As night fell on the 9th of June 1944, Major Noel Cowley was in his hull down Sherman on point 103 in Normandy. The Rest of C Squadron, 24th Lancers, were hiding in the bushes and what cover they could find. The dark green shapes were just black blobs against the black trees and bushes. Off in the distance some flames and smoke issued from the village of St Pierre. The town was occupied by unseen members of the Durham Light Infantry. Beyond them were the German held lands, and the tanks of Panzer Lehr. From their position C Squadron was to cover the DLI overnight.
A 24th Lancers Sherman driving past a knocked out Panther.
The Germans were well known for launching local counter attacks to recover lost ground, and St Pierre would be no exception, as dawn broke Panzer Lehr stormed towards the town.  C Squadron rose and addressed the Germans as best they could. An organisational oddity of the 24th Lancers was that they grouped all their Fireflies into a single troop. The Panzer Lehr assault threw the DLI out of St Pierre. However, with the other two squadrons of the 24th Lancers, and the Sherwood Rangers advancing to back them up the DLI stormed and recaptured the town during the day.
A 24th Lancers Firefly. The 24th placed all their Fireflies in a single troop, as was technically how they were organised on the official tables of organisation. It's just in other regiments Fireflies were always split up between troops.
 This bitter fighting caused several casualties, one of the first that morning was Maj Cowley, who had been hit in the head by shrapnel in the opening fight. Some sources say this was from an 88mm, but such sources are unreliable, as every German gun was an 88....
The wound had been to Maj Cowley's head, after his initial first aid the medic at the forward station had this to say about his condition:

“He is sleeping so quietly, I sometimes think he is dead. I have put him on a stretcher by a ditch so I can tip him in if necessary."

Maj Cowley however survived. He was evacuated to the UK where he spent three months in hospital. After rehabilitation he was declared unfit for overseas active deployments, and begun a series of staff roles within the Royal Armoured Corp.

Cowley had been born in Twickenham in 1912, and had enlisted in the army aged nineteen in 1931, and obtained a commission in 1938. It is unsurprising then that after the war he remained within the army. In 1947 he served in BAOR until 1953, where upon he returned to the UK and took a year's course of study on Slavonic and East European Studies. Cowley was given a position as a military attaché at the UK's legation in Budapest. Thus in 1955 an experienced tank officer, and his family crossed the Iron Curtain and took up a position in what would soon see the full military might of the Soviet Union.
On October the 23rd mass protests against the Communist puppet regime began. At the Radio Budapest building the Hungarian Secret police, the AVH, occupied the building. A large crowd outside began to issue demands, where upon shots were fired. Word of this reached Cowley who was attending a function in full dress uniform. He calmly returned home, changed clothes, picked up his pistol and disappeared into the night to observe events.
The Hungarian flag with the Communist coat of arms cut out was the symbol of the Revoloution.
The next day the Soviets deployed their armed forces, including their latest tank, the T-54, into Budapest. Fighting and skirmishing soon broke out. On the 25th a full-scale massacre of a crowd of protesters took place outside the Parliament building. Cowley, who was present, said it was started by the Soviet tankers, whom he attributed most of the gun fire to.
As the fighting intensified it was found, with some irony considering the source of the name, that the T-54's were rather vulnerable to Molotov Cocktails. Thus, several wrecked and damaged T-54's were littering the city outside of Soviet control. Cowley was able to visit and inspect these top-secret machines with his driver. The driver was a local called László Regéczy-Nagy, whom had been a tank crewman up until his capture by the British in 1945.

On the 28th of October a cease fire was announced, and the Soviets were able to withdraw. Some suggest that during this period Cowley gave some advice to the new Hungarian government's defence minister on how to deploy their forces. Equally at one point during this period a fully functional T-54 was driven onto embassy grounds for a period, where upon it was given a hasty study, before being returned to the Soviets.
It is often claimed that this incident, and fear of the Soviet tank gave rise to the 105mm L7. This is inaccurate. The L7 Development program started before this incident, and the development was driven by the British assessment of the T-54 having 120-130mm of frontal armour. With only 100mm of armour the 20pdr Mk.3 APDS could penetrate a T-54 from about 1400-1500m. The British usually wanted their tank guns to defeat enemy MBT's from 2000-4000m. Equally the British usually started work on their next generation of Anti-tank gun just as soon as the current one had entered service. This tradition started to break down a bit with the 20Pdr as the British first looked at a 4.5" gun, Then the L1 120mm, and finally the 183mm L4, while the 20pdr was in service.
Therefore the idea of the T-54 in general, might have had an influence of the start of the L7 program, but it is wrong to say that this incident is the sole cause for the L7.
Not a T-54, but definitely knocked out by the rebels.
The Soviets of course returned in full strength and crushed the Hungarian revolutionaries. Cowley and his family were evicted after being accused of supplying the revolutionaries with arms, and László Regéczy-Nagy was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the same crimes. Where they obtained these weapon stocks from was never made clear.

Noel Cowley died in January 2010, and László Regéczy-Nagy is still alive.

Image credits:
latimesblogs.latimes.com and telegraph.co.uk

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