War stories - execise 2

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Exercise 2

This little story happened during a major exercise somewhere in Europe :-

A small group of us were sent to another regiment as replacements to 'beef' up a part of their organisation. This regiment, as most people we met told us were regarded as a 'bad boy' unit. Morale seemed low and lots of people were waiting for transfers or to leave the Army altogether. Most of the people we met were Ok though.

We were given two vehicles, one was spanking brand new, which my officer promptly took charge of, the other which I was supposed to command seemed to have been left to rot. When we first seen it we were told that it hadn't been used for nearly five years and had only been towed inside under shelter shortly before we arrived. Indeed, it looked as if it should have been scrapped after the Korean War or possibly WWII. Looking inside the first aid kit even this had been scavenged and all it contained was an old field dressing, opened and a bit mouldy so probably not very sterile, and a broken headlight bulb. I was further informed no one could remember the last time the engine had actually been started, and if we ever managed to get it out of the workshops under its own power the staff would buy me a crate of beer. Finally I was told that no one could be spared to give me a hand with it and if I really needed any help I was to look for Bombardier Charlie Dickens (not his real name). As we had a lot to do the rest of my crew was split over several vehicles to give a hand but I kept hold of Edward Fellows (again not his real name) to give me a hand. Neither Ed or myself would call ourselves mechanics but we got hold of the service manual and set to work.

We tried to start it but it wouldn't so it wouldn't, so we decided to strip the engine down. This particular type of vehicle had a fluid flywheel (the power from the engine being transferred to the gear box using pressurised oil) so the first thing to check was if there was anything in there. Unfortunately whoever worked on it before had rounded off the nuts to this particular component so we decided that it was probably OK. (We didn't have a clue but certified that it was anyway). The next thing to check was the carbureta, on this vehicle there should be twelve bolts holding the top of this unit in place, there were twelve when we started but somehow after cleaning the jets and valves we could only find five, but what the hell. After checking and cleaning the suspension and axles we decided we'd better do something about the tyres, two of which were flat. This we did by waiting till the workshops were empty then taking them off of another vehicle.

We met a signals sergeant who was foreign with an odd name, his name was unpronounceable so we called him TUAAM after a piece of radio equipment (Tuning Unit, Automatic Antennae Matching) who reminded us that Bombardier Dickens should be available to help us. We spent quite a long time looking for this NCO. Ed even suggested he didn't exist but was a cardboard cutout that people moved around so we couldn't find him. Eventually someone told us he was last seen in one of the offices so I went off to look for him, as we'd been looking for this guy for nearly two days and had left messages for him to contact us and he still hadn't bothered I was in a mood to batter him when I found him. So off I marched across the parade ground in pursuit of the elusive Charlie. In must have been odd if anyone had seen us, me mumbling to myself about ripping this guys head off and spitting down his neck and my right hand in a fist with Ed tugging on my left arm begging me not to do anything too rash. Eventualy we caught up with him, and the Army being the oversize family that it is I realised I'd met the bloke before, on a course, and that he'd been OK. After we'd exchanged pleasantries not the blows I'd been expecting he said he was bust but would join us later and I said OK, nice to see you again and went back to the vehicle sheds.

This is the odd thing about the Army, wherever you go, you eventually meet people you've met, however briefly, again. I was up Ben Nevis one day when I met someone who remembered I was in a bit of an argument with someone he knew outside a chip shop in Newcastle about a year before.

After a little while, we decided it was safe(ish) to restart the engine of our vehicle and no one was more surprised than I when it started after the third attempt. True, it didn't run very smoothly, it was far noisier and a lot smokier than it should have been, but at least I got my case of beer.

Ferret

The next thing to do was to see Sergeant Tuaam about our signals equipment for our vehicle. It was then that we discovered that since the vehicle was last used the Army had changed it's signals equipment, and that none of the current equipment would actualy work with our vehicle, and that we couldn't even use the vehicles power supply. Instead we were issued personal radios and a quiet word to the effect that no one cared if they never saw our particular vehicle again.

Me and Ed realised our vehicle was not very well, and our little 4 ton armoured car was making more noise than the tanks we were with. It was throwing out great plumes of smoke and making noises that only a very unwell engine can. One evening, our squadron leader came up to us and said there was going to be a long, fast convoy starting at last light and because if our vehicle broke down we would probably end up being crushed by the tank behind us and as he really didn't want to write to our next of kin explaining why we'd been sent home in a couple of pizza boxes and a bucket, Ed and I would make our way across country on our own. Packing our kit and getting map references off we went.

Things went very well for a couple of hours, after that we started seeing 'enemy' vehicles on the roads. Luckily, I'd had lots of vehicle recognition lessons and on spotting one of these would order Ed into the nearest thicket or down a side road then we'd recommence our journey. A little later we came across a whole convoy of vehicles parked by the side of the road, as we passed them I ordered Ed to go full speed ahead, he asked why and I told him to get a good look at the nationality of the vehicles we were passing. Ed obviously did and increased speed. Although the 'enemy' were actually NATO allies it's always embarrassing to be captured and sometimes things get a little out of hand and someone ends up hurt. As we passed the vehicles we came to a cross roads, Ed asked which way, so rescuing my maps which were flapping in the breeze I told him to go right. As we approached the crossroads a Military Policeman stepped out and signaled us to halt. Swerving past him we took the corner on two wheels and as soon as there was a bend in the road and we out of sight told Ed to leave the road and hide us in the nearest thicket. A couple of vehicles had obviously been dispatched to get us and we watched them go past from the safety of our bramble bush.

Doing what comes naturally to soldiers we made a brew up (cup of tea) and decided to go back and gather a little information on our 'friends'. We spent a few hours hiding in the bushes taking notes on what and how much equipment was there, what tactical signs were used and a couple of other things then resumed our journey.

Later that night as we approached our rendezvous point we saw a vehicle parked by the side of the road. We parked our vehicle up and walked down the road to see who it was, as we recognised it as a British vehicle and seeing the commander was having a quiet cigarette called out to him. From the way the guy jumped into the air I think the poor bloke came pretty close to having a heart attack. He said he wasn't expecting anyone for a few hours yet and showed us where we were to park our vehicle.

A few hours later the rest of the vehicles arrived and we reported to the Command Post and told them about the 'enemy' concentration we had seen and reported that it looked like a major refuelling point. After being debriefed by the intelligence section the Commanding Officer ordered a helicopter recce of the site then ordered in a FGA (Fighter Ground Attack) to destroy it. Zillions of brownie points for Ed and I.

A few days later our poor old vehicle finally came to the end of the road (something to do with the gearbox seizing up after running out of oil - oops!) and it was abandoned in a quarry with all the other wrecks from the exercise.

We met Charlie Dickens a little later on in the exercise, everyone else was wearing the regulation daisy crushers or LPCs (Leather Personnel Carriers - boots) but he was wearing a very fetching pair of trainers that clashed terribly with his combat outfit. He explained that as he was refuelling his wagon he'd managed to cover himself with petrol so he took his boots off to dry them on the warm exhaust. Unfortunately his driver had started the engine and they'd burst into flames.

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