on 11 April 2013
Trevor's account is not of epic battles and sweeping observations on the course of the war in Europe, there are plenty of titles that will offer this. This book is written about what happens to the ordinary tank crew, the fear, the happiness, the discomfort, the conditions and of friendships made. Written in secret, as journals were against regualtions, Trevors day to day account of war is both simple and yet complex, his observations on the horrific smells in Normandy, of shattered towns and of civilians going about thier lives is wonderfully insightful. His mentions of letters to his wife, Jess, and his family too all offer the reader a chance to glimpse into the life of battle. War is never simple yet the humble tank crew sometimes never saw the 'big picture' they simply survived day to day.
This book is a worthy purchase, a shame it was not in hardback but worthy to be on anyones bookshelf, if you want a book on strategy this is not for you, if you want to understand what it was actually like then buy this book.
on 20 September 2014
This is a powerful, personal diary, from a man who went into Normandy, in 1944, as a trained, but completely inexperienced, member of the Royal Tank Regiment and came out of the war as a veteran. 9th Battalion, RTR, entered Normandy some days after D-Day and was thrown into the very thick of things, in its first action. It was mainly armed with Churchill tanks, dating from 1941, although up-gunned since then, so that it could compete with the Panzer IV, which always comprised the majority of the opposition.
The Churchill's armour was thick, in parts, but not distributed very scientifically. Its 75mm gun was a lot better than the 2-pounder gun, with which the original model was armed, but didn't let it compete with the more recent German tanks. A useful essay, supplied as an epilogue to Sergeant Greenwood's diaries, points out that the Churchill's mechanical reliability, on the other hand, was greatly superior to that of the Panther, or of the two types of Tiger. It's not likely that Trevor Greenwood could have deduced that from his own experiences. Having said that, he does refer extensively to the recovery and repair of tanks "disabled" by enemy action.
One thing that the Churchill did share with the later German tanks was its weight. It wasn't as heavy as either Tiger, by a long way, but was certainly a headache, for anyone trying to put a temporary bridge across a place where the Germans had blown up all the existing ones. Their inability to cross many bridges was an Achilles' heel for the German tanks, too; even the mythological Achilles had only a single Achilles' heel, but German Panthers and Tigers, for all their formidable firepower and seemingly indestructible armour, had several of them.
Trevor Greenwood wrote constantly to his sweetheart, Jess, and fretted when he failed to receive letters from her. She clearly wrote equally devotedly to him, in fact, but wartime circumstances meant that her letters might all arrive at once. No doubt, letters in both directions were censored to bits, but the fact that they maintained this dedicated correspondence is extremely touching. There is never any hint that Trevor Greenwood suspected that his Jess had stopped writing and his faith in her was always triumphantly sustained.
There's a surprising amount of this diary in which Sergeant Greenwood doesn't see any action. His unit didn't arrive in Normandy until some time after D-Day, although, as I mentioned above, it was thrown straight into the cauldron. In between whiles, the tank crews spent a lot of the time trying to find better places to catch a few minutes of sleep than under the tank (in the very wet summer and autumn of '44, tanks frequently sank into the ground overnight and crushed anyone underneath). Sergeant Greenwood documents every occasion his men and he managed to get billets in civilian dwellings, usually with the willingness of the inhabitants; when he suspects that the billets were imposed, he does say so, with a detectable twinge of guilt.
Like everybody who served in Normandy and the rest of the North-Western campaign, Trevor Greenwood saw dreadful things. Mostly, he doesn't refer precisely to specific injuries, but he does so on one occasion, which affected him, I suspect, very profoundly: seeing a comrade die, in horrific circumstances, and subsequently learning that another member of his unit had died of his wounds. There is no conceivable doubt that what he saw during those days stayed with Trevor Greenwood for the rest of his life. It's quite easy to imagine that someone writing a memoir of the war might have suppressed such gruesome memories, but this is a diary, not a memoir.
As such, it comes to a pretty sudden stop, when the author ceases to have any involvement in military operations, shortly after the British, Canadians and Americans cross the Rhine (there is a hint that the Churchill tanks were so heavy that getting them over the river wasn't a priority and were so slow that Shermans, Cromwells and Comets were considered more effective for pursuing the routed German army). As far as I recall, the only types of Allied tank that Trevor Greenwood ever mentions, apart from his Churchills, are the "Honey" (a fast, but desperately poorly protected light tank from America, with only a 37mm gun) and the ubiquitous Sherman. The fact that he hardly ever comments on, or even mentions, other types of widely used tank must suggest something about the way in which 9RTR was employed.
Trevor Greenwood was clearly a reluctant warrior, the right kind, even if, eventually, he was a very effective one. He never lost his humanity. You can see that, when the battalion crosses into Germany. On the one hand, there's a bit of the "oh, well, they deserved it" stuff, but he is much more alert to the fact that the German soldiers are surrendering and the German civilians are accommodating. All the way through his diaries, I get a desperate sense of a man who would rather be doing anything other than firing high explosive rounds at buildings, in case there are German snipers hidden in them, always happy to avoid casualties and to see files of uninjured prisoners. Although he doesn't appear to have been very sympathetic to civilians in Normandy and later compares the French, in general, negatively to both Belgians and Dutch, he was evidently horrified by the loss of civilian life in the entire campaign: French, Belgian, Dutch and, yes, German, too.
There is a little problem with the Kindle version. I read this on the Kindle HD. Words beginning with "fi", such as "first", appear as "4 rst", or whatever. It's not the first time I have seen bugs like that. I do know a bit about computing and code pages and I see no justification for this kind of defect. I think that this bug is one that the publisher should have ironed out, by now. Having said that, the odd weird spelling is a ridiculously small price to pay, compared to what Trevor Greenwood and his comrades went through.
on 26 September 2012
I bought this book on the strength of the cover really, but i have to say that a different book covering a similar topic with a far inferior cover, Ken Tout's 'By Tank', is the better of the two. Greenwood's dedication in keeping his diary in the midst of battle really must be commended, especially when his fellow troopers were spending their time entertaining the recently liberated local ladies, but unfortunately his prose isn't in the same league as Ken Tout's. Both books cover a similar period, Greenwood in his sturdy Churchill & Tout in his Yank Sherman and both show us the mundane existence of the tankmen punctuated by brief spells of violence, indeed much of Greenwood's diary concerns the Belgian & French civilians he meets, and his absent wife Jess, back in England sending what appears to be a letter every day. By mid way through the diary Greenwood's tank is carrying more loot then Captain Bluebeard and must have looked more like a mobile removal sevice than a Churchill, but again this kind of honest insight really makes the book. Unfortunately the final assault into Germany is covered very briefly, Greenwood evidently not having the time to chronicle the events, shame as i was looking forwward to reading about that.