Desperately the tanks took their way up to this nightmare, towards the crossroads near Poelcapelle. The night was pitch dark, the merciless rain slammed on them, causing a tank to slip into the side of the road and slide helplessly into the crowing water. The others reached the crossroads. Obussen fell down on the gloomy ruins of Poelcapelle in a frenzy of destruction. Frank Mitchell, Poelcapelle October 9 '17.
20 september 1917:
Meanwhile, the E-battalion was ordered to prepare for the next tank battle. It would be held on the extreme left wing of the Ve army, around Langemark, under the sectors of the XIVdc Corps of General Watts and the XVIII Corps of General Maxse, so in collaboration with the 20th Light Division, the 51st Highland Division ("the best of the whole army ") and the 58 London Division. That was a line from the Schreiboom (Langemark) to Kerselaar (St-Juliaan).
In that line, the 20th Light Division took care of the sector between Schreiboom and Eekhoutmolenstraat. She could completely conquer Langemark on September 20, but that happened with so many losses and efforts that the ultimate goal of that day, the infamous "Eagle-Stelling", could not be achieved, and one of the causes was the lack of sufficient. In the meantime, the infantry of the 20th Division had crossed the village and reached the Schreiboom.The tanks could not overtake the infantry, because both the E42 EXQUISITE (lt. Wilson) and the E43 ELDORADO of lt. Bayliss fell into the mud, the last one near the church ruins.
The tank crews left their machines and joined with their guns at the Scots of the 51st Division to follow the Lekkerboterbeek, then Pheasant Farm (Jungburg) and the German cemetery (more info) next to the farm to conquer. They even pushed through to Delta House, but then they stopped, exhausted.
Then the Germans brought reinforcements from Westrozebeke and recaptured their lost Delta House in a nocturnal counterattack. But they did not come any further. Pheasant Farm (Jungburg) and Rose Farm remained in the hands of the Scots.
22-23 september Leftwing:
Here the combat units consisted of tanks from the D-battalion.
D42 DAPHNE (lt. Sherwood):
- goal: to Flora Cottage (St-Julian) and then to Quebec Farm.
D43 DELYSIA (lt. Enoch)
- goal: to New House (Langemark), then over the Lekkerboterbeek to Bavaroise Farm
D44 DRACULA (lt. Symonds)
- goal: to Bavaroise Farm and then Tweed House.
D54 DIADEM (lt. Jones)
- goal: to Bavaroise Farm, then to Delta House.
This last tank was already hit by a grenade splinter in the radiator when crossing the Steenbeek in St-Juliaan and was switched off.
The other three tanks did not get any further than the Lekkerboterbeek, by the tree trunks laid over the road. The tank commanders gave orders to make a kind of elevation with wood and stones so that they could overcome this obstacle and continue. This way D44 could still reach Delta House, take it under fire and drive the Germans out of it. Then the engine fell out (after he had sunk four times in the Lekkerboterbeek!) And after two hours of digging they could not get the tank working. They gave the rest of their ammunition to the infantry and returned to St. Julian on foot.
Tank D44 DRACULA was captured by the Germans a little later when it was counterattacked
performed on the Scottish Highlanders of the 51st Division and regained the ground they had lost against them, up against Pheasant Farm (Jungburg). They allowed themselves to be photographed next to the tank and proudly declared him as "erbeutete (= captured) more Scary Tank", but they could not drag it as well as the British, so there was little left of "erbeuten" in the house. Later they were grateful for that, because on 9 October he held the whole series of tanks that were to conquer Poelkapelle.
The next four tanks had to keep it a bit further to the north:
D45 DESTROYER (lt. Symond) and D29 DAMON (lt. Vose)
- goal: White House (Langemark), then Rose Farm
D16 DEREK (lt. Macintosh) and D55 DRAGON (lt. Tritton)
- goal: via Pheasant Farm (Jungburg) to the Kangaroo Trench.
The other four tanks that were to take part in this action were all hit by a direct hit or sunk in the marsh north and south of the Lekkerboterbeek. Those were the:
D4 DRY AD (lt. MacNiven),
D30 DUSKY DISS (lt. King),
D23 DASHING DRAGOON (lt. Owen) en de
D21 DREADNOUGHT (lt. Dobinson)
Source:Poelcapelle 1917:"A trace of tank wrecks" by Robert Baccarne.
4 oktober 1917
A trail of tankwrecksThe battle order at Poelkapelle was as follows, from north to south:
From Houthulstbos to Wallemolen: Vde Leger (General Gough)
From Wallemolen: 2nd Army (General Plumer) with far left the Anzac Corps (New Zealand Division and 3rd Australian Division)
In the Vde British Army the division was the following:
From Vrijbos to Treurniet:
XIV "1 Corps (General Watts)
Guards Division (General Feilding)
20 Light Division (General Douglas-Smith)
4th Regular Division (General Matheson)
From Treurniet to Wallemolen (Poelkapelle village):
XVIII1'1 Corps (General Maxse)
11th Northern Division (General Davies)
48th South Midland Division (General Fanshaw)
Because General Maxse, although infantry general, believed most of the use of tanks by all army authorities, and because the road St-Juliaan-Poelkapelle hardened the best and thus was the most suitable to bear the weight of the tanks, the main attack ( conquering Poelkapelle), especially entrusted to his 11th and 48th divisions.
The 10th company of the supporting tank corps under the command of Major Marris (substitute Maj. Haskett-Smith), ie 12 tanks (= three sections of 4 each) of the D-battalion, was ordered to carry out the order, ie the assisting infantry in conquering strong positions.
From section 1 (under captain Martin):
Tank D1 DRUID (It.Salmon) (See Photos) Tank D13 DAME (It.Wallace)
- Occupy Terrier Farm
Tank D2 DUKE OR CORNWALL (lt. Smith)
Tank D3 DRONE (lt. Heffill)
- to Gloster Farm
All tanks were female except D2.
From section 2 (under Captain Nicholls):
Tank D5 DAKOIT (lt. Wylie)
Tank D7 DEATHS HEAD (Captain Boucher)
- reach ruins of Poelkapelle church
Tank D6 DEVIL ALA Y CARE (lt. Glasscock)
Tank D8 DIOGENES (lt. Short)
- intersection Ieperstraat - Langemarkstraat
The tanks D7 and D8 were male, the other female.
From section 3 (under Captain Makeown):
Tank D9 DAMOCLES (lt. Raynor)
Tank Dl 1 DOMINIE (lt. Cook)
- to Ferdan House (Kangaroo Pond) (no longer rebuilt farm on Oude Langemarkstraat)
Tank D10 DIANA (lt. Heptonstall)
Tank Dl2 DOROTHEA (lt. Dawe)
- as a reserve in Poelkapelle village
D9 was male, the other three were female.
Two supply sites for fuel, oil, water and ammunition were provided at Regina Cross in St-Juliaan. Each tank also received sufficient stock to create a warehouse near Retour Crossing, both for the tanks and for the entire infantry of the XVIII Corps, as well as two carrier pigeons to be able to report messages from the ground or help requests.
The tanks arrived in St-Julian the day before and were camouflaged under nets in anticipation of the departure order. At midnight they left for Poelkapelle, to about the Lekkerboterbeek. However, one of the tanks, especially the D11 DOMINIE, was obliged to return for a few minutes due to mechanical failure. The others rattled laboriously until Retour Crossing, held up by the tree trunks that the Germans had laid over the road to block the only passage that the tanks could take. Those trees had to be removed by the tank crews, which took a lot of time. But this was not so bad, because it turned out that the infantry who had to follow the tanks on heels, could not get along quickly according to the imposed schedule, and that because of the terrible mud and the adjacent grenade funnels.
On the main road to St-Julian, near Kerselaar (St-Julian), D1 DRUID got off the road, slipped into the ditch and did not get out of it. He was abandoned, left behind.
The three other tanks of this section reached their starting point St-Julian by noon, after they had waited to support the Warwicks battalions of the 48th Division against a possible counter-attack by the 6th Bavarian Division. But that did not come. Before returning, they delivered all the ammunition and supplies that they had left to the infantry.
The other two sections reached the heavily damaged intersection of the Langemarkstraat and the Houthulstseweg (where the Guynemon monument now stands). There was nothing left, but the rubble of the former row of houses showed the tanks the most likely course of the former streets. The tanks swarmed open there.
D5 DAKOIT entered Poelkapelle at half past eight, immediately conquering some of the numerous machine gun nests in the former cellars, and took numerous prisoners, which they left to the Lancaster infantry of the 11th Division. While they tried to eliminate a sniper's nest in the middle of the village, tank D5 DAKOIT sank into a grenade pit and could no longer get out; the 'unditching beam' broke. He was shot in such a way that Sergeant Proctor was killed and three men seriously injured, including the tank commander Lt. Wylie. The tank was stuck behind the ruins of the terraced houses to the northwest of the church.
D6 DEVIL MAY CARE and D8 DIOGENES found their targets already conquered by the infantry and then also fought their way through the main street to attack the numerous bunkers and finally handed over their ammunition supplies to the infantry. Tank DIOGENES thereby collapsed in a crater and was able to free himself with difficulty, as the chains of his 'unditching beam' snapped. He had to be pulled loose by his fellow tank D6.
Also the tanks of section 3 reached their targets, but because they were stopped around Retour Crossing by a jammed tank, D12 DOROTHEA, they only reached their objectives when they were already occupied by the infantry. There were two more, one at the church and one at the Houthulstseweg, but after a few hours they could work loose and hand over their ammunition to the infantry. Outside DAKOIT and DRUID they all reached their base St-Julian, loaded with wounded infantrymen.
The tanks of the A-battalion also departed from St-Jan, but operated more to the south. A remarkable event can be mentioned here: Poelkapelle was in the meantime liberated in part and the British were able to hold their positions up to about Return Crossing. The week after October 4, the tanks were left for a while, with a few exceptions. In which only a few elements were used.
7 oktober 1917
Among other things, an action was attempted on 7 October by two tanks, D2 DUKE or CORNWALL and D3 DRONE, in the direction of Burns Farm and Vacher Farm. But they came too late, because those two hooves had already been taken by the infantry (and lost again). The tanks could no longer give support to that infantry because they sunk into the marshes of the Lekkerboterbeek and because the side street they thought they would be suitable for tanks (the current Waterstraat) was no longer there.
So the infantry had to conquer Terrier Farm on its own.
Such operations with a few tanks were only local incidents, not real tanks.
Source: Poelcapelle 1917:"Atrace of tankwrecks" by Robert Baccarne.
The conquest of Poelkapelle was certainly urgent, because otherwise no progress could be made, neither left (in the direction of the Houthulstbos), nor right (in the direction of Passendale). But behind the village basin of Poelkapelle were still almost unrivaled Bayernstellung and Flandern I-Stellung with the enormous reinforced support of The Brewery.
It would be a day of success for the Allies on October 9, but this time this time not on the tanks, but on the infantry. This would indeed penetrate beyond the Tanks
During the night of 8 to 9 October, the next tank set-up with their targets was communicated to all departments of the D-battalion involved. (This consisted of 92 officers and 859 men at the time.) It would appear that these targets were estimated far too optimistic ...
Three sections (12 tanks) had to target an attack on the fortified homesteads Senegal Farm, Bertier Farm, Taube Farm and Colibri Farm.
Also 12 tanks had to operate against the following fortified homesteads:
two against Requete Farm
two against Bower House
two against Rubens Farm
two against the hometowns Conde Farm and Van Dyck Farm
two from homestead Tourenne Crossing to the Kattestraat
two from homestead Tourenne Crossing to Vijfwegen
There were four tanks in reserve in this sector.
On the front of the XVIII Corps the distribution was as follows:
two tanks to Helles House and Nobles Farm
two tanks to Cameron House
two tanks to Meunier House
two tanks to Tracas Farm
The tanks left on 7 October from their station at Boezinge in the direction of St-Juliaan, where they collected under camouflage nets, painted like bricks and debris would look like from the air. There they waited until midnight between 8 and 9 October. Because before that time the only passable road, the St-Juliaan-Poelkapelle road, was only available for the supply of artillery and ammunition. But even that road was not very useful because of the innumerable grenade funnels, broken up vehicles, dead animals, tree trunks laid over the road so that just leaving the road through the heavy tanks led to the inevitable slip in the bank and from there into the ditch. As happened with, among other things, one of the eight tanks that got sludge water over his carburetor and could not continue. Worse still, it was when the Germans launched a great bombardment three minutes before midnight on the Brugseweg and around the advancing tanks.
The first four of the row had to move somewhere to the left to join the XIVth Corps, but they could only succeed in the center of Poelkapelle itself. So they would try to spread to achieve their goals.
D21 DREADNOUGHT II (Lt. Shaw) who had to go to Nobles Farm, already sank at Malta House; and was shot.
D27 DOUBLE DEE II (lt. Willis) had to go to Helles House, but burned out trying to get through to Delta House.
D23 DASHING DRAGOON II (lt. Benn) was the goal of Meunier House, but was never touched there. D24 DEUCE OF DIAMONDS (lt. Grant) had to go to Tracas Farm, but could not pass Delta House, was hit by a direct hit and burnt out.
All these tanks were held up by the DRACULA wreck (shot there and left behind on September 20).
The tanks assigned to the XVIII Corps did not fare much better:
Tank D29 DAMON II (Lt. Coghlan), who had to go to Conde Farm, sank just when he wanted to turn the Houthulstseweg. He could not save himself from the mud, because he had broken his 'unditching beam' and he got a direct hit afterwards.
D31 DOLLY (lt Stevens) also had to go to Treurniet, but was shot at Delta House.
30 DUSKY DISS (Lt. Birks) had to go to Peace Farm (Ph. Pirate), but was fully affected at the German cemetery (more info) near Retour Crossing and burnt out completely. Some of the crew died.
D32 DOP DOCTOR (Lt. Butler), who had to reach the Bertier Farm farm, fell completely into the mud at Delta House and did not get loose again. He was also the first to be stopped by the wreck of the D44 DRACULA and thus barred the way for all other tanks.
In this way a real tank cemetery was created between Delta House and the German cemetery: there were six tankwrecks on top of each other: D44, D31, D32, D27, D23 and D24. Not far from there were D21 at Malta House and D30 at the German cemetery. The sad result of that unfortunate October 9 was that none of the deployed tanks could be saved. Four were hit by direct hits and burned out, eight were irrevocably lost in the mud.
Source: Poelcapelle 1917:"A trace of Tankwrecks" by Robert Baccarne.
THE BREWERY POELCAPELLE
9 oktober 1917:
11 Coy D BN carried out the last tank operation in the Ypres salient about 8th October 1917.The starting point of the attack being St-Julien and the objective The Brewery at Poelcapelle, thereafter the Coy. was to support the Royal Naval Division eventually withdrawing rather vaguely along a track to the North.
The Brewery was a heap of rubble surrounding the usual type of concrete strong point, which the Germans had constructed at most places of tactical importance, and commanded the road to Roulers.
The terrain was Flemish mud honeycombed with shell craters and, after ten weeks of almost continuous rain,semi bog.
The tanks were taken up from Oosthoek Wood over Essex Crossing and camouflaged in the ruins of St.Julien village forty-eight hours before the attack. The plan was to proceed line ahead over the Steenbeck along the pave road to Poelcapelle picking up the Naval Division about half way to the objective. I think eight tanks started; Hugh Skinner our Section Commander led the second section in a male tank aid mine being a female tank was second. The road itself Was a pave causeway slightly wider than a tank, broken in places with shell holes winding dark aid bleakly towards a hopeless horizon. It ran through a sea of mud reminiscent of a picture of the Abomination of Desolation, cratered inconceivably littered with the debris of battle and stinking of death.
Some of the tanks lost in the earlier fighting had sunk below their sponsons and one in fact had only the roof and top of the tracks showing.
The chances of survival appeared so remote that it required a great effort to cross even the Ypres canal and even a greater effort to conceal one's reluctance at the thought of yet another day spent on what was obviously a hopeless and abortive undertaking.
The tanks crawled out of St-Julien at first light accompanied by the usual drizzle which made the slippery road dangerous and difficult to the most expert drivers. We crawled along in relative silence apparently ail alone until peering through the murk on either side of the road one saw little knots of infantry wearily ploughing their way through the quagmire representing the main axis of the victorious advenes to Roulers.
Round a bend we cams upon disaster in the shape of a large tree, which had either been felled or blown across the road. The leading tank in trying to climb over it had slipped on the wet baak into the mud and had become ditched. Two other tanks had put on their unditching beams and bad tried to crawl round the outside of the ditched tank and had themselves become ditched. There was a slight pause and then
Skinner decided to lead the section over the tree, and by immaculate driving on the part of our drivers the three of us left crawled precariously up the trunk and slipped safely down the other side onto the road.
Our prace was then shattered by the opening barrage which came down a few hundred yards in front of us on what we imagined to be our objective, The Brewery at Poelcapelle. It was impossible to hear or see anything except the black road between the horns of the tank and we crawled slowly on, conscious that the German defensive barrage had come down and that we were in the middle of it. Suddenly an ear-splitting crash filled the tank with the acrid smoke of an exploding shell through which appeared a telltale flame - we had received a direct hit.
The fire was on the starboard side of the tank and the driver with great coolness switched off and put it out with his pyrenes. The direct hit had been occasioned by a shell which came in through the starboard doors and hit the engine, and we were hopelessly immobile. There was nothing in sight, and all we could do was to évacuate the task into the nearest shell hole. One gunner had practically lost his leg, he subsequently died, three others were more or less badly wounded. By this time we were in the middle of an absolute inferno. The last tank appeared in sight some twenty yards behind us commanded by Rosy Stephens. We crawled back dragging our wounded with us and explained to him that the road was hopelessly blocked in front and that to leave it was courting disaster in the shape of instantaneous bogging.
The driver with quite extraordinary skill managed to turn his tank on that narrow road literally by swinging inches at a time until he was once more facing in the direction of St-Julien and we withdrew down the road until we met the block we had passed previously and which now consisted of every tank which had started the advance except Hugh Skinner's, my own and Stephens. We did our best to by-pass the chaos, but the morass was too much and we bogged half way round. A very brave advance stretcher party took off the man without a leg and the rest of us set off across a path we had found in the direction of home. We eventually found a dressing station to drop the rest of the wounded, who were by this time in a bad condition, but were halted outside by a military policeman who said it was reserved for stretcher cases only. For the first time we were able to deal satisfactorily with an enemy met face to face.
Getuigenis Frank Mitchell:
On the 9th October eight tanks made a despairing effort to get into action against some strong points on the Poelcapelle road. Conditions had gone from bad to worse. Day and night, night and day, the enemy shelled the road. The surface was pitted with shell holes. For thirty long hours the rain had teerned down. The highway was one long series of slushy puddles, strewn with smashed limbers, and made foul by the bloated bodies of dead horses and fragments of human limbs.
Despondently the tanks picked their way up this nightmare of a road to their starting-point, the crossroads near Poelcapelle. The night was pitch dark, the pitiless rain beat down upon them in torrents. One tank, getting too near the edge, suddenly slipped over on one side, and slid helplessly into the gurgling water. The others reached the cross-roads. Shells were pouring down upon the dismal ruins of Poelcapelle in a frenzy of destruction.
The leading tank suddenly plunged into a new shell hole and became bellied. It strove so fiercely to climb out that the unditching gear broke. The second tank pulled up on the side of the road, waiting to pass, when a shell landed on top and set it on fire. These two maimed creatures blocked the way. It was impossible for the others to get by, so they slowly and cautiously turned round and crawled back again. Unfortunately the last tank had run into the ruins of a derelict and, swerving sideways across the road, became irretrievably ditched. The four remaining machines could now neither go backwards nor forwards : they were trapped ! There was no shelter anywhere, no hope of escape from the fierce storms of shells.
The four baffled monsters, puffing and snorting, turned helplessly this way and that. In a last despairing effort a couple plunged wildly off the road, only to become immediately bogged in the slimy water. The others were hit and mutilated. Before they recovered from the shock more shells descended and completely disabled them. Most of the crews were killed or wounded.
The rain still came down steadily. So did the shells. In a few minutes nothing stirred on that ill-omened road. Only eight huge carcasses remained, some battered beyond recognition, others lifting their snouts pathetically above the slimy waters.
It was a tragic end to a series of tragic battles for the tanks. After this disastrous episode no more tanks were used in the Ypres sector.
The road to Poelcapelle was now completely blocked by the derelicts, and supplies being thus cut off from the troops in front, it was essential for the obstructions to be shifted immediately. This dangerous task was undertaken by the chief engineer of the 1st Brigade of Tanks, with his stalwart salvage gang, who slaved every night to clear the road. In spite of intense shelling he managed to blow up most of the wrecks with heavy charges of guncotton, and within a week the road was free again.
The appalling scenes witnessed on the road are described in the following letter by an engineer officer who took part in the salvage work :
" I left St.Julien in the dark, having been informed that our guns were not going to fire. I waded up the road, which was swimming in a foot or two of slush ; frequently I would stumble into a shell hole hidden by the mud. The road was a complete shambles and strewn with débris, broken vehicles, dead and dying horses and men ; I must have passed hundreds of them as well as bits of men and animals littered everywhere. As I neared Poelcapelle our guns started to fire ; at once the Germans replied, pouring shells on and around the road ; flashes of the bursting shells were all round me. I cannot describe what it felt like ; the nearest approach to a picture I can give is that it was like standing in the centre of the flame of a gigantic Primus stove. As I neared the derelict tanks the scene became truly appalling ; wounded men lay drowned in the mud, others crawled and rested themselves up against the dead to raise themselves a little above the mud. On reaching the tanks I found them surrounded by the dead and dying ; men had crawled to them for what shelter they would afford. The nearest tank was a female. Her left sponson doors were open. Out of these protruded four pairs of legs ; exhausted and wounded men had sought refuge in this machine, and dead and dying lay in a jumbled heap inside."
Meanwhile in England the fate of the tanks wavered i Tankfotos 9 Oktober the balance. On 11th October Mr. Winston Churchill, Minister of Munitions, told Colonel Stern, who supervised the output of tanks, that the War Office considered that tanks were a failure. They complained that they were being lumbered up with useless tanks at the front, and that millions of public money was being wasted. In their opinion there had been a total failure of design, no progress had been made, and their belief in mechanical warfare was at such a low ebb that they proposed to give it up entirely.
A few days later the then existing construction programme of 4,000 tanks for 1918 was cut down to 1,350. Colonel Stern immediately saw the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and pointed out that the reduced programme was totally inadequate. Next day Colonel Stern was dismissed from his job, and side-tracked into a new position connected with the development of tanks in France and America.
Colonel Stern had forgotten that he was dealing with the military mind. He, a mere temporary colonel, had dared to suggest to a powerful general that the infallible War Office was wrong. What was the world coming to? These jumped-up civilians must be taught a lesson. So Colonel stern, one of the staunch pioneers who had laboured and fought ceaselessly for tanks from their birth, was dismissed, and in his place an admiral was appointed who had never even seen a tank !
Thus, from the rear, the Tank Corps was dealt a heavy blow by enemies more dangerous than any German —the strongly-entrenched Almighties of Whitehall.
The tank units were all withdrawn from the dreaded salient by the latter part of October to refit and gird up their loins for new efforts.
The infantry and artillery remained to stagger on through the swamps. The weary and dispirited troops gathered up their ebbing strength into one supreme effort, and in the first week of November the heights of Passchendaele were stormed. The Third Battle of Ypres had ended at last. The cost to the British Army was nearly 400,000 casualties.
No battle could better illustrate the immense and criminal futility of war. Four hundred thousand of some of the best troops in the British Army were squandered to obtain a muddy ridge which, only four months later, was hastily abandoned when the Germans advanced.
The Tank Corps withdrew from the salient in a state of gloom. They had achieved so little at so great a cost. Every infantryman trudging over the duckboards could see the scores of derelict tanks lying helplessly in the slime. Everybody was remarking, " Tanks are no good ; look at them stuck in the mud all over the place."
In one way, however, good came out of misfortune, for the Germans, too, were now firmly convinced that as an instrument of warfare tanks were useless. They considered that they had been highly overrated, and took no steps to build tanks in large quantities.
Getuigenis Royal Tank Corps:
CAPTAIN HORACE BIRKS ROYAL TANK CORPS:
That was the first time I would command a tank in battle and I was terrified. I was hoping to make my ankle pissed, that they would blow up everything or something like that. The hour of truth was coming closer and the worst moment was when we started our engines and hit them back and someone took a paper out of the exhaust and everybody was fooling each other while we were waiting for the things to come.
We climbed into the tank, the caterpillar drivers took their place, the side gimbal was installed, the driver got in, then, through the upper hatch, the officer and then we left. We had to close the hatch soon because we were within range of machine guns and when the hatch was closed, we were completely isolated from the world. We could not communicate with the outside world in any way. Inside it was getting warmer. The only ventilation there was was for the engine, not for the crew. If you wanted to look outside, you had to do that through a steel periscope that gave everything an incorrect, translucent glow. Inside it was warm, sweltering and dark. And there was so much noise that you could not hear anything, so the people used to say something to you. That was the only way you could communicate. My tank never went well before the engine was boiling, but when it boiled and you kept on driving, it went pretty well.
You noticed it immediately when the barrage was opened. Every grenade that struck a few meters from the tank caused such a huge pressure displacement that you felt it straight through the tank. And when a grenade exploded between the wheels of the tank, it was almost thrown into the air. The machine guns were easy to spot, because their bullets were like peas that clatter on a can.
KORPORAAL JACK DILLON 2ND BATTALION, TANK CORPS
At Passendale the smells were very remarkable and very sweet. Really very sweet. The first scent that you caught was a very sweet smell. Later we discovered that it was the smell of decaying bodies, of men and mules. Then you caught the smell of chlorine gas. That smelled just like the peerdrops you had known as a child. If the smell of peerdrops became stronger and more attractive, you knew that there was more gas and that it was more dangerous. When you walked on the path and there was a grenade in the mud, the mud was turned over and all those smells came up.