February 13, 2015

1944. Trouble with Tank Maintenance

Tank Maintenance and Underground Newspapers in Belgium
"The crew of a Cromwell Mk IV tank of 2nd Welsh Guards on the drive into Brussels, 3 September 1944. Despite sporadic resistance from the Royal Palace and Gestapo HQ, the city's capture went smoothly, 'the chief difficulty being to cope with the populace who were very effusive in their welcome,' as the Battalion’s war diary put it with typical understatement" (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Brussels

September 5, 1944

This is Bill Downs speaking from Brussels.

The most common sight in a military convoy on the crowded roads of Belgium today are the worried faces of British tank men checking the bogies of their tanks, checking their gasoline, checking the treads, and wondering just how many miles the good tank Matilda or Gwen or Loch Lomond has left in her.

For the armored columns have traveled so far, so fast, that tank maintenance has become a serious problem. There has been no halt since the tanks left the Seine, and these monster vehicles literally wear themselves out because of their great weight when traveling at the speed and distance they have the past few days.

Rubber bogies on the Sherman tanks heat up and wear out. Tank treads break and weaken with use. Engines begin to stall and wear with use. However, every army that has used the Sherman has nothing but praise for its reliability at all times. There is no doubt that the reliability and good worksmanship of the German tank has been one of the major factors in the Allied blitzkrieg thought northern France.

And supply is another problem. I have seen a few tanks stalled along the roads because of lack of fuel—maybe four or five. Somehow they were not able to get fuel; probably because they simply outran their supply columns and were waiting for them to catch up.

But the advance continues. The Germans are not getting a chance to sit down. Allied troops have the scent and are pursuing it all out. However, if in the next couple of days there is a pause, you can think of the concern for maintenance and for supply which, after a hundred mile push, takes clever administration to bring forward.

The people of Brussels today are chuckling over the jokes of the new newspapers—the underground newspapers which they have read for the past four years in secret. Now these newspapers are being sold in the open.

The paper Free Belgium prints a column of classified advertisements worth repeating. Incidentally, the editor of this paper is published as "Peter Pan." The address is given as the former German headquarters. It seems that the Germans were never able to locate the exact spot where the paper was published.

This column, printed as a joke, gives some interesting sidelights on the Nazi occupation of Belgium.

One advertisement says: "German woman, very wealthy, wishes to marry a Belgian, any Belgian. Accepting nationality in exchange."

Another reads: "For sale: 15,000 false identity cards. Price: 50 francs."

A third reads: "Will exchange 5,000 photographs of Goebbels for five of Churchill."

These joking advertisements in the Free Belgium newspaper are a good barometer of the people and their feeling.

As a matter of fact, the Belgians are just a little disappointed that we invaded their country so rapidly. The general strike was scheduled to come off today. All policemen were to strike, all public services were to cease, all industries and shops in the city were to close. But now there is no need.

The famous Belgian White Army has never received direct orders to rise and fight, but they needed no orders and are rising and fighting very well without them.

This is Bill Downs in Brussels returning you to CBS in New York.