Friday, November 8, 2013

ClubberSpeak: The Story of a True Canadian Warrior

This is the latest installment of Jim Lang's additions to life here at OSG Sports...

Since it's close to Veteran's Day up here and Remembrance Day up there, it's highly appropriate that our reident military history buff go here for his new column...

Check out his archive hyah...

As remarkable of a feat as it was, the D Day landings were only a small step in the Allies defeat of the German Army.

The distance between Juno Beach (Bernières-sur-Mer, France), where the Canadian Army landed, and Paris is 259 kilometres. It took the Allies 80 days of bloody fighting before they were able to liberate Paris.

During this time the Allies discovered, much to their horror, that the Sherman tank was no match for the Panzer Mark V Panther and especially the dreaded Mark VI Tiger tank. Armed with a lethal 88MM main gun the Tiger was superior to anything the Allies could throw at it. For the most part the Allies relied on Air Superiority and massive advantage in manpower and material to handle to the German tanks. In some cases the Allies would lose three Sherman tanks so the fourth could maneuver in behind the Panther or Tiger for a point blank shot. The Allied high command could live with this tactic because at that point in the war they had an endless supply of tanks and men to throw at the Germans.

Asking a Sherman tank to take out a Panther or Tiger in a head on tank-vs-tank battle was considered to be near suicide.

Sherman tanks also had a bad habit of catching fire after being hit by an anti-tank round. So much so that the German nickname for the Sherman tank was the “Tommy Cooker”. The Allies called them “Ronson”, as in the lighter. The Ronson lighter slogan at the time was “lights up the first time, every time’. Unfortunately the same could be said for the Sherman tank. One round from a German tank and in most cases it instantly caught fire. As you can well imagine a fire inside tank filled with fuel and ammo means the poor crew had seconds to get out before burning to death or being blown up.

In one two day battle, Operation Goodwood, outside of Caen, France the Allies suffered horrible losses and still claimed success. Some historians estimate the Allies lost well over 300 tanks in the battle to an estimated 100 knocked out German tanks.

For many Allies, the one thing that was guaranteed to take out a Panther or Tiger tank was airpower. Rocket firing Typhoons and other fighter-bombers would roam the skies looking for targets. Sometimes the battles were fought in foul weather or at night, so airpower was useless.

But somehow, someway one tank commander was able to find the tactics, skill and nerve to defeat the German Panzer corps.

This man would become the ace of aces after he knocked out 18 German tanks, more than any other Allied tank commander in Europe.

His name was Major Sydney Radley-Walters, and he was a proud Canadian.

I first heard about “Rad” after watching the controversial Documentary by Terence McKenna called the Valour and the Horror. After hearing about his exploits in the battlefields of Europe in 1944 I have read countless stories and essays about the man and what he was able to accomplish on the battlefields of France.

One of the very best was an in depth thesis written by Lawrence James Zaporzan in 2001.

Through years of reading and research I was able to get a fairly clear picture of the man and how he would ride into battle. Sitting high in the turret of his tank “Caribou” Radley-Walters did what many tank commanders thought impossible, he faced Panther tanks head on and kicked ass.

Radley-Walters was able to devise methods for knocking out the technically superior German tanks by developing a keen understanding for their weak sports and how to exploit them. One of them required taking a close in shot at a six inch by 12 inch section of the armour plating around the front of turret of a Panther tank. If he screwed up Rad’s Sherman tank would be taken out by one shot from the German high velocity 75MM main gun. But Radely-Walters and his tank crew didn’t miss.

More than just a skilled tank hunter, Radley-Walters was a skilled and respected leader of men as he commanding entire armoured squadron in 1944. In what is a hotly debated topic among military historians there are those who are convinced that a tank under Rad’s command assisted in the destruction of the most feared German tank commander of the Normandy campaign, the infamous Michael Wittmann. (Wittmann was credited with destroying 138 enemy tanks during the war. In one engagement at Villers Bocage, France, Wittmann and his Tiger tank nearly wiped out an entire British armoured column all by himself.)

The leading tank ace of the US Army in 1944 was Lafayette Pool. Pool was credited with 12 confirmed German tank kills. An impressive number to say the least, but a far cry from the 18 knocked out by Rad.

None other than Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery pinned the Military Cross on Radley-Walters chest for bravery in battle.

Later on ‘Rad’ would also be awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

The sad reality is that if Radley-Walters were an American, they would have made a movie about him about his experiences in World War 2. Because Rad is Canadian, that will never happen. We rarely make movies in this country about heroic acts in combat. In Canada we like to look at our military as “Peacekeepers”. We forget sometimes that Canada produced, and still produces to this day, warriors. Men and women, who volunteer, train and prepare to wage war and defeat the enemy.

Rad trained hard to prepare himself and his tank crew for D-Day. The combination of Radley-Walters’ skills as a tank commander and the desperate situation facing the Allies in the summer of 1944 meant that he was in combat for 80 straight days before he was moved off the line. By that time the war ended this young man from the Gaspe region of Quebec had the distinction of being the Allies finest tank commander. The ace of all aces in 1944.

Lest we forget

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