First Parade

 

Armoured Fighting Vehicles-what’re they all about?

The characteristics of Armour are;

Firepower-tanks and light AFVs can facilitate high volumes of direct fire.

Flexibility-AFVs, through their radio nets, can be maneuvered around the battlefield very quickly.

Shock action-The arrival on the battlefield and assault by well handled and well crewed AFVs has a highly detrimental effect on the morale of poorly protected enemy soldiers.

Mobility-AFVs can move quickly from task to task.

Protection-AFV armour protects crews from all but the most severe assault by small arms, indirect fire and anti-tank weapons. 

And how do you spell tank? W.O.R.K! How do you spell armoured personnel carrier, armoured car, scout car? Also W.O.R.K., although a little less strenuous than a main battle tank. Which ever of these types of AFV in which you have had the privilege to have served as a crew member, the ‘W’ word still applies. With out exception, the maintenance, handling and fighting of AFVs is hard, dirty and exhausting work.

Changing a Centurion tank track, for example, required the use of such diverse tools as:  a small spanner to undo a locking bolt, an oversize ratchet spanner with a four-foot extension bar which loosens the track adjuster to allow the track to be broken, a tool for removing the circlip from a track pin, a punch type tool for pushing the pin through its retaining holes so as to ‘break’ the track, and a whole adventure into foul language, blasphemy, and railing against the inventors of such a system. Then, having broken the track, rolled it off the return rollers and laid it out behind the tank, (remembering the weight of one link is 19 kg and a new track on one side of the tank might have 100+ links) the crew has to lift the lead link of the new track onto the cogged final drive sprocket then, as the vehicle is driven slowly forward, feed the new track onto the return rollers, across the front ‘idler’ roller and then connect the thing and adjust it.

For regular maintenance, the crew has to ‘pyramid’ the engine and transmission covers, that is to lift them and set them in such a way as to allow free access to the relevant parts. The engine covers weigh 100 Kg each and there are five; the transmission covers are 50 Kg a pop. So, at the end of a day of heat, rain, humidity, dust and perhaps fear, it’s obvious that a daily service, even if you don’t have to lift the covers mentioned is some task!

This job requires experience, strength, and coordination to do, and is just one of the regular features of AFV maintenance.

But if these are the characteristics of the vehicles, what of the character of the men who man them? The men who do this are, in their own way, exceptional. No better or worse than any other serviceman, (especially infantrymen, for whom we have a deep and abiding respect, for all the ‘chaff’ we throw at them), but exceptional in that they require and acquire special skills to properly use the vehicles and weapons which make up the fighting strength of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps.

AFV operation is no simple task. For example. To fire a single, properly aimed high explosive round from a battle tank requires the coordinated actions of three men; Commander, Gunner and Loader. The first to acquire the target and direct the gunner onto it, the second to see the target and to properly ‘lay’ the gun, and the third to load the round of ammunition and prepare the next if needed. The physical actions of these three men, just for one round, number in the dozens, and if they don’t get it right, and in proper sequence, others can suffer, not counting themselves. When the main armament of a battle tank recoils and runs out, it is doing so within, literally, centimeters of the turret crew. Put your hand in the wrong place….

Drivers sit at the front of the vehicle, and although they can close down (which restricts their vision to almost nil) they are in many ways more vulnerable than the turret members. One depression of the clutch pedal of a Centurion required 60 pounds (27.5 kg) pressure and a driver would make hundreds of gear changes in a day’s operation. Add tropical heat, dust, rain, humidity, cold and the fact that the 52 ton tank is steered by pulling on levers either side of the driver, it is quite apparent that it’s a hard job.

So, it requires some sort of man to do the job right, and even though we in Armour wear a little more protection than does the infantryman, we are in our own way, just as vulnerable.

As a commander of Armoured forces of Troop and Squadron size, add to the stresses outlined above the need to handle many vehicles at once, monitor/listen to (sometimes) five radios at a time, remember where you are on the ground and map, look for the angry  men and keep your head, as Kipling says, while all about are losing theirs!

Having very briefly described the environment in which the soldiers of the RAAC work, it seems proper to show, however briefly, some of these men, warts and all, the good the bad and the ugly. There have been many true gentlemen, some rogues, some vagabonds (but no real villains), some of note for their bravery, some of note for their unobserved bravery, some of note for their reluctance and (almost exclusively) men of note for their willingness to go in harm’s way without demur. Some are recruiting poster adds for the Army, some are (were) the despair of their Officers and NCOs. At least one has taken holy orders, and one was later employed by ASIO.

Every Trooper has been affected by service in Armour, most positively, some adversely and a few in the worst possible manner.

Very few of these men would qualify as the idealistic concept of the knight in shining armour, worshiping a fair lady from afar and slaying dragons, but in their own way they maintain this concept of honourable behavior. Their armour was dull green, frequently filthy (as were they) and with marks from the actions of angry men laid on (and sometimes through) it, not to mention the crewmen them selves and there are few who don’t like a beer or six on a hot day. But they are loyal, as the knights of old, to themselves and their mates, to Nation, Corps and Regiment, and they are the modern Knights in Green Armour. 

There is no mention in these thumbnail sketches, interviews, conversations and yarns of wives, girlfriends, partners or family. All of the men described had such, but there is no capital in describing divorces, separations and the like. These things are the personal domain of each person and are not in the ambit of the book.  Ranks as on discharge or resignation. The term ‘Trooper’ is both a generic and the rank of RAAC soldiers who in most Corps would be called privates, and applies to all ex members of the Corps. It is only a fair sample of the many who have served in the Corps. Space precludes those many whose story ought be told.