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Authors: Robert Forrest-Webb

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Chieftains

BOOK: Chieftains
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'Davis seemed to wait forever, until he decided Inkester must have missed again or the shell had failed to explode. Then he saw a brief shower of sparks scatter from the foredeck of the T-72's hull to the left of the driver's hatch, and almost at the same time it exploded outwards like a movie scene in slow motion, He saw the two hatches on the turret fly upwards, followed by the turret itself and the driver's and engine hatches. Soundlessly, to Davis, the hull tore apart, belching a swirling orb of flame. He heard Inkester's awed voice: "My God!"'

 

Among a myriad of exploits as an adventurer Bob Forrest Webb has crossed the Sahara and back on motor cycle, spent long periods of time in Indian and African jungles, won the British Kayak Championships and attained 3rd Dan black belt status in Aikido. He has also worked as a journalist on both local and national levels and is the author of THE SNOWBOYS, CAVIAR CRUISE, GO FOR OUT, THE SEALING, and BRANNINGTON'S LEOPARD. He undertook the extensive and detailed research for CHIEFTAINS with the help and co-operation of the Ministry of Defence.

 

A Futura Book
First published in Great Britain in 1982
by Futura Publications, a division of
Macdonald & Co (Publishers) Ltd
London and Sydney

 

This eBook edition published by Forrest Webb Productions

 

Copyright © 2011 by Roberta Forrest

 

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

 

Photoset in North Wales by
Derek Doyle & Associates, Mold, Clwyd.
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Collins, Glasgow.

 

Macdonald and Co
London & Sydney Holywell House
Worship Street
London EC2A 2EN

 

AUTHOR'S NOTE

 

British army signal communications are both complex and classified! To assist the reader, and maintain security, these have been modified throughout the book but still represent the methods and procedures used, with acceptable inaccuracy.

 

Technical data concerning weapons, vehicles and equipment is based on information at present available from military sources, and speculation on possible but as yet undeveloped weapons has been avoided.

 

I have honoured the requests of military informants, in Great Britain and West Germany, to gloss over certain tactical features and have deliberately blurred the precise areas of responsibility of various NATO forces. I have, however, made use of hitherto unpublished facts which I believe to be of importance in the scheme of NATO defence of Western Europe, and which would certainly influence the manner in which a future war might be fought in that theatre.

 

This book is dedicated to the steel of the spontoon within the red diamond. My sincere gratitude to the nameless, and to my close friends retired officers Bill Waterson and Geoff Pratt, who greatly assisted my research.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

TITLE PAGE

ABOUT THE BOOK

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

COPYRIGHT & PERMISSIONS

AUTHOR'S NOTE

DEDICATION

Chapter 1:
ONE

DAY ONE

Chapter 2:
TWO

Chapter 3:
THREE

Chapter 4:
FOUR

Chapter 5:
FIVE

Chapter 6:
SIX

Chapter 7:
SEVEN

Chapter 8:
EIGHT

Chapter 9:
NINE

Chapter 10:
TEN

Chapter 11:
ELEVEN

Chapter 12:
TWELVE

Chapter 13:
THIRTEEN

Chapter 14:
FOURTEEN

Chapter 15:
FIFTEEN

DAY TWO

Chapter 16:
SIXTEEN

Chapter 17:
SEVENTEEN

Chapter 18:
EIGHTEEN

Chapter 19:
NINETEEN

DAY THREE

Chapter 20:
TWENTY

ONE

 

19.00 hours. Wednesday 18th September.
Bergen-Hohne. West Germany.

 

There were six empty bottles on the table in front of the three men. The Chieftain crew's driver, DeeJay Hewett, was leaning forward supporting his head with one hand as though in deep thought, but the fingers of the other were drawing large circles in a pool of spilt beer. Inkester, the gunner, rescued his packet of cigarettes as the pool spread, and stared around the canteen. He could see other men of Bravo Troop, drinking and chatting; a few watched a video film on the television, but the tables nearest Hewett, Shadwell and himself were unoccupied, as though the three of them had some kind of contagious disease.

 

Eric Shadwell, the loader, said wearily: 'Well, you've done it for yourself this time, DeeJay.'

 

DeeJay Hewett slapped his palm down into the pool of beer, splattering it messily around the table. 'He bloody asked for it, the long-haired git.'

 

Shadwell grimaced. 'You didn't have to belt him so hard. Anyway, you could 'ave waited until we met him one night up at Angie's Bar...I've seen him drinking there with his mates.'

 

'Wrap it up, Eric.' Inkester held the damp cigarette packet towards DeeJay. 'I'd 'ave bloody hit him, too, only DeeJay got there first. Look at the fucking mess the bastard made of Bravo Two. Bloody amateurs! They ought to keep amateurs out of tanks...especially bloody Dutch amateurs; the Dutch ought to stick to growing tulips! You want another beer?' Inkester didn't need to wait for a reply, he twisted himself out of his chair and walked over to the bar. He could sense some of the other crews watching him; fine lot of mates they all were! Just because there was a bit of trouble, they didn't want to know. Once it all blew over they'd be fine again, even congratulate DeeJay, buy him drinks; the Dutch weren't popular with British tankies at Bergen-Hohne, but right now no one wanted to be associated with the incident, even remotely.

 

Inkester carried the bottles back to the table and handed one to each of the two men. They drank for a few minutes in silence and then Hewett sighed, shrugged his shoulders and said: 'Well, I suppose that's the end of my bloody leave.'

 

'Aren't you getting married next Saturday?' Shadwell asked.

 

''Course he bloody was, you daft twit,' said Inkester. 'It's fucked everything, hasn't it?'

 

Neither Inkester nor Shadwell had witnessed the fight. It had all happened quickly. They had been returning from the gunnery ranges with the rest of the troop when the Dutch tank had driven straight out of one of the camp entrances and into the side of Bravo Two. The unexpected impact had startled them, jarred them as Bravo Two swerved suddenly and there was a heavy crash and the squeal of tearing metal. By the time they had climbed out of the Chieftain there was an unconscious Dutch conscript lying on the ground and Sergeant Morgan Davis, Bravo Two's commander, was dragging an enraged DeeJay away from the man as a group of Dutch military police ran from the guardroom swinging their batons. The police wanted DeeJay in their cells, but Sergeant Davis knew what that would have meant for the British trooper. He almost threw DeeJay back inside Bravo Two and slammed down the driving hatch, then he argued with the police until Lieutenant Sidworth, the troop leader, arrived.

 

Davis had been angry with DeeJay, but he could understand his feelings. DeeJay Hewett, like himself, was a professional, and he had the same professional's appreciation of the tools of his trade; Bravo Two was DeeJay's tank, at, least, that was how Deejay viewed it. And most of the Dutchmen were conscripts! A tank wasn't the same thing to them, they only worked with them for a short while, not long enough to really appreciate them; their casual attitude to soldiering showed in untidy uniforms and the length of their hair. But Davis knew it was important to remember they were allies, and good fighters; they had shown that in the past. An incident like this would breed bad feelings and the Bergen-Hohne camp wasn't large enough to permit the incident to be ignored. Regrettably, Lieutenant Colonel Studley, the commanding officer of the regiment, would be forced to make an example of Hewett.

 

'They're still fighting,' said Eric Shadwell.

 

'Who's fucking fighting now?' Inkester scowled. Shadwell had a habit of picking subjects out of the air and it wasn't always easy to follow his line of thought.

 

'The Jugs. I heard it on the news.'

 

'They've been fighting for the past three days...more,' Hewett drained his bottle. 'Yugoslavia's not our problem. Been askin' for it ain't they, just like bloody Poland.'

 

'Well, the Yanks are helping them,' added Shadwell, defensively.

 

'Go on, that's bullshit!' Hewett stared across the canteen towards the door, then frowned. 'Oh, Christ!'

 

'What?' Inkester turned his head and saw Sergeant Davis looking around the room from beside the entrance. Davis's eyes caught his. There was no expression on the sergeant's face to give them an indication of his mood.

 

'What's he doing here?' asked Shadwell in a stage whisper.

 

'Fucking looking for us, isn't he? groaned Hewett. 'And he's not come to give us any bloody gongs I'll tell you that.'

 

'He's gone to the bar,' hissed Shadwell:

 

'Shut up, Eric. I don't want to know what Davis's doing.' At the moment the fact that Sergeant Davis was Bravo Two's commander meant very little to Hewett. Your commander was a mate so long as you were working together, but when he acted as a representative of authority he placed himself on the other side. Right now, so far as Hewett was concerned, Sergeaht Davis was Lieutenant Colonel Studley's man.

 

'He's coming over,' said Inkester. He straightened himself slightly and ran his fingers through the ginger stubble of his hair.

 

Sergeant Morgan Davis, a short, dark-haired and sallow-skinned man, stood a whisky bottle on the table and then swung one of the metal stacking chairs between Inkester and Hewett and sat down. He nodded towards the Black Label. 'You'd better all have one.' No one moved. 'Help yourselves,' insisted Davis.

 

Inkester cracked the seal and poured himself a double into his beer glass. He slid the bottle towards Hewett.

 

'No thanks.'

 

'Don't bugger about, DeeJay! Christ knows when you'll see another,' warned Inkester.

 

'Lay off,' muttered Hewett, but he took the bottle and tilted it over his glass.

 

'What's going to happen to DeeJay?' Shadwell asked the sergeant.

 

'With a bit of luck, he'll get away with a hefty fine,' said Morgan Davis. He filled a glass for himself. 'I'm afraid you've had it with your leave, lad.'

 

'I fucking knew it,' swore DeeJay.

 

'You shouldn't have lost your temper,' Inkester said, unsympathetically. 'You could have got us all in the shit.'

 

'You're a fine one to talk.'

 

'Take it easy...it's got nothing to do with this afternoon. All leave is stopped; everywhere. The patrols are out, bringing in everyone from the town. Personnel already on leave are being recalled.'

 

'What's going on now, Sarge?' asked Shadwell'

 

'You know almost as much as I do,' answered Davis. 'They began evacuating the families an hour ago.'

 

'Yeah, some of the blokes are right pissed off. It'll turn out to be another bloody exercise,' said DeeJay. 'Anyhow, I don't see why it should affect my leave; it's special.'

 

'We'll all be out of here before 20.00 hours, lad. And if I was you, I wouldn't press my luck,' Sergeant Davis warned him. 'The longer you're away from camp, the better. Thumping a Cloggie's bad enough, breaking his jaw was bloody stupid.' He drained his glass. 'Anyway, you three have got ten minutes' start over everyone else. It'll be coming over the PA shortly. Get yourselves sorted out.' He stood, screwed the cap back on to the whisky bottle and tucked it under his arm, like a distorted swagger cane.

 

'What about Bravo Two?' asked Deejay. The impact of the Dutch tank had dented the skirt so it dragged on the right track; to Hewett's ears, always tuned to the performance of his vehicle, it had sounded as though the Chieftain was tearing itself to pieces as he had driven back to the sheds.

 

'Good as ever, lads,' said Davis. 'The sergeant fitter's done us a favour.' He hardened his voice slightly. 'Drink up then, and make a move. I don't want a last minute panic just because Shadwell's forgotten his copy of Wanker's Weekly.'

 

DAY ONE

 

In fifty minutes it would be dawn. The night was moonless with the stars obscured by a high layer of thin cloud. Earlier it had drizzled lightly, rain as fine as mist, and now there was the sharp chill of autumn and the metallic scent of damp woodland in the air.

 

Morgan Davis could feel the cold security of his Chieftain's armour against his back. Bravo Two rested hull-down below the crest of a ridge of high ground on the Elm Hills, overlooking the plain towards the East German frontier. Tonight the sky was uncharacteristically dark; the black-out of the lights of the town of Helmstedt to the north-east, and those of the numerous small villages, had extinguished the usual warm tinting. A few meters ahead of the sergeant, slightly to his right, small bright glow-worms wavered in the gloom, the fluorescent sights of infantry AR 18 rifles.

 

There were sounds, unnatural and muffled yet familiar to him; the stifled movement of men in the darkness, whispered conversations, a throat softly cleared, equipment adjusted, the trickle of urine against a tree root; Davis had heard them all before, it seemed like a thousand times.

 

They had been stationed on the hill for the past five hours, since their night drive down from the 14th/20th King's Hussars depot; the main battle tanks of Charlie Bravo Troop deployed on the left flank of Charlie Squadron, while those of Alpha and Bravo Squadrons were dug in three-quarters of a kilometer to the south, in the fringes of the woods. The battle group's reconnaissance Scimitars, light tanks, fast and manoeuvrable, waited a kilometer and a half away towards the east, on the plain itself.

 

The moist air was condensing on the leaves and polished limbs of the birches, dripping to the thirsty ground beneath. It had been the first rain for almost a month and, although the earth was still firm, its surface was slippery. It would be difficult for tyred vehicles to move through the woodland for the next few hours; the hard sun-baked soil with its fresh thin coating of mud would be like ice beneath the heavy wheels.

 

Hewett, the Chieftain's driver, was a lanky Yorkshireman. His nickname DeeJay was an abbreviation of 'double-jointed' and stemmed from his ability to fit his tall frame into the cramped driving section of the tank. He was squatting near Sergeant Morgan Davis's feet, his shoulders wrapped in a waterproof poncho. The gunner, Inkester, was sheltering inside the fighting compartment with Shadwell the loader, who was heating water for mugs of instant coffee.

 

DeeJay Hewett asked Davis: 'Why don't they ever tell us what we're supposed to be doing?' Avoiding an immediate interview with his commanding officer hadn't reduced his despondency. It was Thursday morning now, and he had a useless civil airline ticket in his locker for a flight out of Hamburg airport at 09.00 hours. His wedding, planned for Saturday in the Leeds Registry Office, was a fading dream. There had been hardly enough time for him to telephone England and ask his brother to postpone everything. He knew all the arrangements had been made, the hall for the reception hired and the catering and drink ordered There would be more than fifty guests to contact and furnish with explanations. His fiancée and her family didn't always understand the ways of the army, perhaps wouldn't even believe his excuse. DeeJay hadn't been able to estimate the possible length of the military exercise and so couldn't promise a future date.

 

Davis was going to say: 'We're already
doing
what we're supposed to be doing,' but instead he remained silent. Hewett's complaint was only intended to ensure that his senior understood the trooper's vexation was undiminished. It was a form of blackmail which Sergeant Davis encountered regularly. If there was a vaguely justifiable complaint, some of the men would try to use it as a lever. Hewett would be hoping for some kind of special concession later, relating to his offence, as compensation. Davis knew all the men in Bravo Troop better than his own children; he spent far more time with the men than with his family. The troop had been together for almost two years with no replacements; twelve men in all, including himself and Lieutenant Sidworth. Davis had been married five years, to a German girl he had met in Hamburg. He saw his wife and the twins only at weekends; she refused to live in the regiment's married quarters near Belsen, so he paid a high rent for a small apartment near her parents' home in the Hamburg suburbs. It kept her contented, but the Davis family poorer than he thought necessary. He was thirty-two, the oldest man in the troop by seven years, and one of the longest serving NCOs in C Squadron. His Welsh ancestry showed in his short build, dark eyes and black hair, and he still retained the accent of his childhood spent in the market town of Brecon where his father had been a stone-mason. There were few Welshmen in the regiment, which did most of its recruiting in the north-west of England.

 

The plain below him was still in darkness, but he could easily visualize its hidden landscape. The ground ahead of his Chieftain's position dropped away quickly through the ordered forest with its plantations of larch, pine and occasional hardwoods, until it reached farmland and the Schöningen Schöppenstedt highway. The fields between the woods and the East German border were hard-worked, interlaced with narrow roads and tracks, their crops of sugar beet almost ready for lifting, the straw for the storage clamps already stacked along the boundaries; Later in the autumn the beet would be delivered to the Schöningen factory for processing.

 

On the lowest ground was the border itself, the Iron Curtain, one thousand three hundred and ninety-three kilometers of barbed wire, anti-personnel minefields, automatic firing devices, pillboxes and observation towers, where soldiers of the GDR remained unfriendly and aloof.

 

Davis was brooding over an uncomfortable feeling; more than simply a premonition. Outwardly, this military exercise was little different from many others. There had been the usual theatrically urgent orders and then the deployment to the pre-determined battle stations. The same sort of thing happened frequently, and was designed to keep the army on its toes whilst at the same time acting as a reminder to the Warsaw Pact countries of the readines of the NATO forces. Whenever there was a worsening of East-West relationships, there was a great stirring amongst the opposing armies as each rippled its muscles as a warning to the other. But this time? For months there had been talk of a dangerous change in the balance of power in Europe; the USSR had taken advantage of the recession in the west in the early 1980s to build up their own armies regardless of the cost to their people. Western governments had not responded quickly enough and Russian military superiority had reached the critical level. The scales were heavily balanced in favour of the USSR and, if it failed to act soon, its leaders surely knew there might never be quite so ripe an opportunity.

 

The strikes and workers' discontent in Poland in 1980 had diminished during the next two years when some of the people's demands had been met by their government and the strikers' enthusiasm cooled by the threats of Russian intervention, but in 1984 the problems had flared again, and then boiled over into Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Davis wasn't interested in politics, only their outcome; but the incursion by Soviet forces into Yugoslavia less than a week before had brought an instant reaction from the United States. Part of their Mediterranean fleet was already in the Adriatic, and they were supplying arms and equipment to the Yugoslav army now fighting the invaders in central Serbia. Davis had lived with the threat of war throughout all his fourteen years of military service, but he knew it was closer tonight than it had ever been before.

 

It was possible that even the evacuation of families was part of some training scheme, but coupled with the manner in which the regiment's tanks had been brought into the border area in darkness under their own power instead of on transports, it was all too close to the real thing for Davis's peace of mind. The map reference of his present position seemed to confirm his thoughts.

 

A hundred times before, the regiment had been alerted and ordered to some obscure theoretical battle position; sometimes as far to the west as the Rhine. The alerts were part of the training, exercise scenarios conceived by the intelligence officers who plotted most of the schemes. The fifty-two-ton Chieftains were driven from their ranks in the vehicle parks or sheds, loaded on to transporters to protect the German road surfaces from the ravaging steel tracks, and taken to some piece of ground where they could be offloaded to roar and crush their way to the fire-points.

 

This time it had all been different.

 

Davis had been to this battle position only once before...three years previously, and then not in a tank but as a passenger with his former troop leader in an armoured personnel carrier. Because of lack of vision available to the passengers inside the APC it had been difficult to follow its route, and when it had stopped it was in an overgrown track cut through birch forest. The party had consisted of the squadron leader, troop leaders and their sergeants. The squadron leader had taken them a few hundred meters deeper into the woodland on foot. Davis had been surprised to find carefully constructed fire-points hidden amongst the trees, each excavated to take a tank, hull-down, with just enough of the vehicle above ground to permit the gunner to use his sights and depress the gun its full ten degrees if necessary.

 

'Satisfied, Lieutenant?' Davis had overheard the major question a troop leader.

 

The lieutenant stared down across the long easy slope towards the frontier. The ridge commanded a broad open section of the plain between two small hamlets. A stream only visible through binoculars and little more than six meters in width defied the distant border, meandering its way between East and West Northwards was rich flat farmland, interposed with bands of young pine forests. 'It's a good position, sir.'

 

'The best we have, gentlemen,' said the squadron leader to the group of men. 'I pray to God we, never have to use it.' The officer had spent the next hour discussing the features of the terrain and how they could best be used in the event of a Soviet attack. Davis had heard the map reference mentioned during the return trip to the barracks. His mind had grasped it immediately, filed it away for the future. And the future had become the present. Not once in all the many exercises in which Sergeant Davis had taken part had the hidden fire-points ever been used...until now!

 
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