By Disobeying an Order he Saved his Tank Crew
By Bob Allmark
This article was originally published in the August 2001 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
Bob Allmark has sent us the following article in which Ronald Sole describes his D-Day experiences when serving in the Canadian army. Among the first Canadians ashore on D-Day, this is his recollection of the landing, as recounted in 1999 to interviewer Linda Affolder.
Ronald is the uncle of Bob’s wife Beryl and was born in Liverpool in 1921. Both are descendants of John and Ann (Hawkes) Sole who were married at Wingham, Kent in 1813. Ronald was the youngest of ten children and his parents emigrated to Canada soon after he was born in 1921 with Ronald and three of his brothers. He was 80 in April of this year and lives in Barrhead, Alberta. – Bob Sheldon.
I was in Fourth Troop, C squadron, the first troop to get on the land. I took in an amphibious tank - that’s a Sherman which has a deck welded around it, with canvas up the sides to keep it afloat, and two propellers running off the track at the back. But when our landing craft was about a thousand yards from shore, we got the order to deflate. They thought it was going to be a dry landing. It was only seven o’clock, you see, and zero hour was supposed to be at eight, at high tide, and the tide was still coming in.
So I deflated my flotation canvas. It was about halfway down. But I was the first one off the LCT*. The front door came down, and I looked and saw the water was way too deep. It was no use going on. So I jumped out and turned on the air pressure to lift the canvas back up. Then you had to push on the struts (things like an elbow turned backward that held the canvas up), to lock them.
The machine-gun fire was bouncing off the tank and the barge by then. Remember, we’re just about a thousand yards out. Up on the deck of the barge, the captain was yelling at me, "Get it off! Get it off!” This is the only time I refused an order, but I wouldn’t go until I got the Sherman ready to float.
A little English navy guy came down and helped me, and I drove off, and everything was all right. We made it to the beach. But the next two tanks couldn't see what I saw. They thought they were going to land in just a few feet of water. Instead they drove into about fifty feet of water. They all drowned. My buddy died in that.
Maybe the captain made a mistake on his co-ordinates too, and landed 200 yards from where he was supposed to. There was a sea wall ten or twelve feet high, and a railway ran along past it, and we were right between two shore batteries. Now these shore batteries probably had 105mm guns. The only thing you see out of the gun placements is the barrel. We managed to hit the gun on the left-hand side and we jammed it so he could only fire straight; he couldn’t turn. We didn't see this at the time though. We were too busy trying to take out the other gun.
Then the soldiers on the seawall started throwing hand grenades at us, and the gun on the right took out our big gun, the 75mm, and our tank was hit and set on fire.
Our sergeant said to reverse back into the water to put out the fire. Otherwise the tank would have blown up, you see, because you've got four and a half tons of ammunition. But as soon as I backed up enough for that, to about where the deck is, water came in through the hole and flooded the tank. By then the sergeant was wounded and our radio operator was - I guess you could say he was shell shocked. There was an awful amount of explosions and shellfire.
Anyway, we managed to get out and got behind the turret and got out our sergeant, who couldn’t move. We hung onto him. You need to remember we were now back in about eight feet of water, and I was the only one that could swim. So we stayed there, clinging to the tank. I don’t know how long it would be, but the tide that had come in was starting to go out. We were still being riddled with machine-gun fire and sniping from a church.
Then somebody, maybe one of the underground, put a ladder down the sea wall, and by then the depth was down to about five or six feet. So I told the others to take the sergeant in and I would draw fire. I jumped to the other side of the tank and the machine gunners started firing at me - I can still see the bullets hitting the water all around. The others made it to shore. So did I. I got behind a rock and eventually managed to run to the ladder and join them.
But on the way I had to step over guys I’d trained with, dead on the beach. There must have been thirty or forty of them, and another 25 or thirty dead infantry soldiers on the seawall.
Carrying our sergeant, we walked down a kind of alleyway, very narrow and with a lot of cars. He was bleeding badly. We met a French underground guy, and he took us into a house where there were a couple of women. One of the women spoke English and she said they would look after him and take him to the medics. Remember, our medics weren’t on shore yet.
There were now three of us. We took off down the street and had just turned the corner when a machine gun opened up on us. Going back around, we hit the railway that ran along the beach, which we knew from our D-Day training led to where we were supposed to land. So we followed it down, and when we got there the echelon for bringing in supplies was trying to get in, but the sea wall wasn’t captured yet.
An officer had about forty pounds of nitro, which he told us to take down and stick in the seawall. Our gunner grabbed the primer cord and I grabbed the bag of nitro, and we went off the wall. Down there we met soldiers I assumed were engineers, so we turned the stuff over to them and they told us to get the hell out of there. So we did. We ran back to where this ladder was.
We noticed our barge must have hit a mine and the bottom was blown out of it. We got back over the wall when this nitro blast went off. Tremendous blast it was. It almost knocked you down 200 yards away.
Now don’t forget, all this time there's mortars coming down, shells, machine-gun fire, and everything else. But now the engineers and such had blown up this sea wall, and the tanks and soldiers could then get up. A and B squadrons had brought in their tanks on a dry landing in four or so feet of water. This is where the second echelon, as they call it, came in, and they started to push through to Villičres-sur-Mer.
But very few of my C Squadron had landed. My sergeant, I was told, had died, and I learned after the war that we three were the only ones left out of nearly 800 men who had started out. You can see all these little scars on my arms, these faded ones. That was where I was hit. It wasn’t bad enough to send me back, though.
Ronald Sole served with the Fort Garries until his discharge in September 1945. He worked as a mechanic at Camrose and Edmonton for five years, and then became a fish and wildlife officer at Edson, Evansburg, Cardston and Calgary until 1975. He farmed in the Evansburg-Drayton Valley area for ten years and when this volume was published was living in retirement at Barrhead.
*Landing Craft Tank: a motorized vessel designed to take tanks close enough to the beach that they can get off without floating.
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