BAIV- The War and Peace Revival 2016.
Housing themselves in an impressive marquee, alongside various other military vehicles at this year’s War and Peace Revival, the Dutch company BAIV displayed its recently restored Comet Cruiser Tank. Destined to leave soon for the US, as a farewell celebration BAIV invited along three WW2 veterans who fought with Comets to hear their stories…
In the early hours of 7 June 1944 Sergeant Reg T. Snowling landed on Gold Beach as a gunner on a Sherman tank of the British 24th Lancers. Their mission was to rush inland through the lines of 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and take the town Villers-Bocage. However, just before Tilly-sur-Seulles at Hill 103 the tank regiment suddenly met fierce resistance of the 12th SS Hitler Jugend Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr Division. The losses of men and tanks in the nine days of battle for Tilly-sur-Seulles were so high, that 24th Lancers were disbanded. Reg Snowling, together with a few other survivors of the regiment, was then transferred to 23rd Hussars Tank regiment of 11th Armoured Division.
Reg Snowling must have had an angel guarding over him during the many battles he fought during WW2. When his troop landed on Gold Beach his tank was ordered to take the left flank. The two Shermans that engaged straight forward and one on the right flank were hit directly after they touched the sand. While rushing forwards Reg managed to hit the German tank that threatened the landing troops on the beach at Ver-sur-Mer and eliminated it.
Subsequently, Reg Snowling survived the fierce battles around Putot-en-Bessin and Tilly-sur-Seulles, though several tanks were lost through enemy fire. When transferred to 23rd Hussars he took part in several operations to take Caen and battles in the Falaise Pocket. After that 23rd Hussars advanced rapidly with the British Army along the coast to Belgium.
THROUGH THE ENGINE BAY
In Belgium Reg Snowling conducted his most remarkable achievement during his career as gunner in a tank regiment: “Our 2nd Troop, C Squadron was hiding in a wood on a hill. Below us were two German Panther tanks waiting for any enemy movement. From their position they controlled the whole area. Two of our tanks were already hit when trying to move out of the woods. We were then told to drive around our two tanks and try to get close enough to eliminate the Panthers. We drove up along a hedgerow, but had to expose our tank to be at shooting range. Immediately both Panthers fired at us, but luckily the shells fell short. I aimed and fired. The grenade went through the engine bay of the first Panther and also hit the second. The first Panther exploded and the second caught fire and soon after the ammunition inside exploded. So I knocked out two Panthers with a single shot. My commander promised to nominate me for a Military Cross for this remarkable action. I am still waiting for it.”
When Antwerp was taken the 23rd Hussars Tank regiment was stationed at Ypres in Belgium for recovery and refit with new tanks: the A34 Mk1 Comet Crusier tank. While waiting for the new tanks to arrive, the German army launched a counter attack in the Ardennes on 16 December. On 20 December the 23rd Hussars were summoned to go to the Ardennes, much to their disappointment, in their remaining 17-pounder Shermans and Honeys. After fierce fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, the tank regiment slithered back on 13 January 1945 over icy roads to Ypres in Belgium. At Brussels they handed back their Shermans, as the regiment would finally be fitted with the new Comet.
Reg Snowling remembers. “We reached Ypres on 20 January. Our first major event was a belated Christmas celebration on 24 January. Though the town mayor was not amused by the noise of our revelry, that kept him awake until the small hours, the people of Ypres celebrated warm heartedly with us.”
THE COMETS LAND
By the end of January 1945 the first new tanks arrived. The tank crews received them with approbation, as the A34 Mk1 Comets were the vast improvement on the Shermans. They possessed a higher speed, had a lower silhouette and thicker armour and last but not least … the 77mm gun! Finally, the tank crews had a gun that could pierce the armour of German tanks. Moreover, during training on the Commets at the range at Gravelines in France in February 1945 the guns proved to be highly accurate.
On 14 March the 23rd Hussars moved out of Ypres. They were called upon to take part in the ‘Battle of Germany’ and join the other regiments of 11th Armoured Division at Diest in Belgium, 24 miles south of the Dutch border near Einhoven. The Division crossed the Rhine at Wesel and joined Eighth Corps in their thrust to the river Elbe.
On 11th April 1945 3rd Royal Tank Regiment (3 RTR) moved in Comets through Norddrebber towards the river Aller. Fred Preston (Recce) and Dennis Frederick Pannell (driver of the Comet ‘Celerity’) took part in the battles that raged in that area. Two Comets of an advanced troop were knocked out by an anti-tank gun, but a third Comet destroyed the gun. During the night 1 Commando Brigade forced a crossing of the river in the face of heavy German opposition. By morning they realised a bridgehead of 800 yards deep and about twice as wide. To support the infantry A Squadron of 3 RTR was ferried across the river using rafts. In the meantime the German Lieutenant Franzen was ordered to attack the British bridgehead with his newly formed Kampfgruppe Grossan, consisting of three Tiger tanks and infantry.
At 14:00 on 12 April, Major Langdon’s 1st Troop, A Squadron of 3 RTR and the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) pushed through Essel Forest. With a Wasp Carrier they set the undergrowth on fire, which allowed the Comets to advance. Then they heard the sound of an 88mm Tiger tank. It was the Tiger tank F01 of Lieutenant Franzen. Hastily the Comets tried to reverse for cover, but the Comet of Corporal Brindle was hit. The shell ricocheted off the thick armour and smashed the Comet’s track. The crew bailed out, not a moment too soon, as two more shells from the F01 wrecked it completely. Armed with PIATs the KSLI then drove the German crew to flee their Tiger and retreat.
TIGER TANK KNOCKED OUT BY COMET
At 05:00 on 13 April Lieutenant Franzen returned to his Tiger and found it undamaged. He moved up against the British and knocked out a Kangaroo. Artillery, however, forced him to withdraw. When he pulled up again, he lost contact with his infantry. Then suddenly he saw a Comet to his left and shouted: “Enemy tank! 10 O’Clock!” to warn his crew. His gunner reacted directly by starting to traverse the turret. But the Comet, commanded by Lieutenant Harding, had sneaked into no-man’s land and laid the perfect trap. The Comet fired once and the round hit the Tiger just behind one of its ammo bins. Although it failed to blow the ammo rack, the shell did hit the fuel tank and caused the F01 to catch fire. Lieutenant Franzen bailed out and found the rest of his crew all safely out, although all suffered minor burns. They retreated on foot.
The 23rd Hussars pushed through Germany and reached the town of Lübeck on 4 May 1945. There they waited for the order to push forward to Denmark. The order never came, as the war ended shortly after. The regiment was then stationed at the barracks of the German Marine School in the town Husum. By the end of January 1946 the regiment was dispanded and the men returned home.
WW2 VETERANS MEET AGAIN
At the War and Peace Revival 2016 the WW2 veterans Reg Snowling, Fred Preston and the son of veteran Dennis Panell, Steve Pannell, met with their old friend: the A34 Mk1 Comet Cruiser Tank. The Comet was retrieved on a shooting range in Germany by the Dutch company BAIV B.V. Within a year the team at BAIV B.V. performed a class-A restoration of the Comet and brought it over for the War & Peace Revival 2016. As a dedication to driver Dennis Pannell the tank was named after his Comet: ‘Celerity’, which stands for ‘with speed’. The next Comet that BAIV B.V. will restore will be named ‘Saint’ as a dedication to gunner Reg Snowling. This Comet should be ready by 5 May 2017 for the commemorations of the liberation of the Netherlands.
For more information on The War and Peace Revival, visit warandpeacerevival.com