Warriors for the Working Day

Warriors for the Working Day

Peter Elstob
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
This is a novel about a tank commander in 3 RTR from Normandy to Germany. Although fiction this is basically the author’s story of his time in 3 RTR, although in this case he starts as a young replacement rather than an experienced tanker from the N African campaign as the author was.

Arriving in his Regiment just prior to crossing the channel to Normandy the author is sent to a tank commanded the Troop Sergeant, a legend in the Regiment with two Military Medals to his name. Newly promoted to LCpl, Brook, known throughout as Brookie almost hero worships his commander. Brookie is the radio operator/loader for the tank, a Sherman, and in the short time leading up to moving to France on D-Day+6 they have become a tightknit crew. After a few days they are sent in to the maelstrom that was the Battle for Normandy, with huge casualties amongst the tankers. Brookie is introduced to the noise and confusion of battle and that casualties are not just physical ones. His commander, double MM, has reached his limit and can’t go on but is persuaded to carry on until they find a replacement Troop Sergeant. He takes the tank into action but is seriously wounded yet is so glad to be out of it. This last action wins him his third MM! Brookie is put up to command the tank temporarily with a couple of battlefield casualty replacements to bring the crew up to strength. He does well at this and is given command of the tank permanently in the rank of Corporal.

I have to say a bit about the writing here as it is excellent. The author takes you right into the tank in action, the fear, the confidence, the joy of coming through a battle unscathed, how a small band of men from completely different backgrounds come together and become a fighting unit, each relying so much on the others. This is quite a large book, 300+ pages but it seemed like a lot less as it is a genuine page-turner. There are casualties and obviously replacements – how these guys fit in is an integral part of the story. Commanders have a difficult time as being shut down means that the battlefield is also shut down so most commanders kept their hatch open and looked out, identifying targets and threats. This leads to a high turnover in commanders. Brookie though is lucky and gets through this. The casualties are not just wounds to the flesh and body but to the mind also. The strain of being in action for long periods takes its toll and it is interesting how this is dealt with, send the guy to the MO, back for some rest and return as replacements, which works for most. No accusations of cowardice as they all know their limits and very few use it as an excuse to get out, although there are some.

Another factor is the character of the tank commanders, some who are cautious, feel their way forward and don’t take too many stupid risks; others are very much in the cavalry mode and happy to charge forward. Both types are needed on the battlefield. One Troop Commander was the type to keep his tank well behind his troop while radioing ‘follow me’ knowing the Squadron Leader is listening. He does not last long before disappearing back down the line.

Brookie is involved in most of the actions from Normandy to Germany including the advance to Arnhem, stopping off in some of the French towns to take advantage of the food, wine and very grateful young ladies! While the book is about the actions the tank was involved in it also tells about the ‘recreational’ activities of the men, most of whom are in their early twenties. Tanks are knocked out from under them, so just go back and pick up a new one, the logistics at that time must have been fantastic whereby tanks are just brought forward as needed.

By this time Brookie is Troop Sergeant with all the extra responsibility that brings, but once in the tank, that is his life. They are sent back as a Regiment to hand over their old, worn out tanks and pick up the new Cromwell tanks and have a bit of R&R; but the Battle of the Bulge kicks off so they are back in their old tanks and off to the front again.

The final phase of the book takes the Regiment into Germany and the push for the final surrender and late April 1945 sees the Regiment being told to push on regardless, punch through the German lines and leave the follow up troops to deal with stragglers. By now, Brookie had become the legend that his first tank commander was and everyone was looking up to him, a 20 year old boy! But he had been in action since Normandy and was looking to the end of the war and getting home to his girlfriend. This is a very difficult time for Brookie and how he deals with orders to push on and at the same time look after his crew is great writing. At one point his tank is lead, breaks down and his Squadron withdraws leaving them stuck overnight in no mans land. All adding to the strain. Two of his crew are badly wounded in the skirmish which affects Brookie greatly and he gets two replacements, one a brand new just out and another a returning casualty; but that is it, just crack on.

This is one of the best books I have read about being in action in a tank. There are no great tales of sweeping tactical moves by armies but how one Sherman moves from point A to point B without being knocked off by Germans at point C. Life is a small metal box with some connection to the Troop and a little more to the Squadron but less still to Regiment. Brigades, Divisions, Armies are not the stuff for the front line soldier.

One point Brookie makes throughout the book is the lesson learned in Normandy – no movement without infantry support. If an 88 is in a position that the tanks can’t get at, then send in the infantry to flush them out. The cooperation with the Jocks, Welsh is often mentioned during actions.

The author Peter Elstob was a colourful character in how own right. He joined the RAF pre war but kicked out for stunt flying, went to Spain to fight in the Civil War but was arrested for spying, volunteered for the Tank Regiment at the start of WW2 staying with 3 RTR until the end of the war in the rank of Sergeant and with a MiD. Post war he became a novelist with this book being his thinly disguised biography.

All in all a great read which I recommend to anyone with an interest of how soldiers react in action and what makes them go forward, time after time. If I could award more than 5 Mr MRHs I would.

Amazon product
First release
Last update
0.00 star(s) 0 ratings

More resources from Auld-Yin