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A Tankie's Travels Paperback – 19 Jan 2007
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Born and raised in a small fishing port in the north of Scotland, Robert Watt enjoyed an idyllic childhood, but by the age of 18 he was keen to get away and see more of the world. Little did he realise, however, when he left home in 1937 to enlist in the British Army, just how extraordinary, frightening and life-changing his forthcoming travels would be...An interest in engineering led him to join the Royal Tank Corps (RTC), soon to be renamed the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) and on completion of his training he was posted to the regiment's third battalion (3 RTR), just in time to hear Neville Chamberlain utter those fateful words: "...we are at war with Germany." In the years that followed, Jock (as he was known to his colleagues) would prove his worth to his Regiment time and again, rapidly rising through the ranks to RSM and later being commissioned as an officer. In the war's early stages, he had two narrow escapes from the enemy's clutches. Sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1940, he managed to catch the last boat out of Calais before it fell to the Germans.Next, he was sent to Greece, as part of an ill-fated force tasked with defending its northern border with Yugoslavia against far superior enemy forces. After a harrowing three-week rearguard action, being pummelled by German aircraft and artillery all the way, he and a handful of other stragglers found themselves stranded on the Mediterranean shore and had to steal a small motor boat and make their own way to safety. After an amazing series of adventures and near disasters, he rejoined his Regiment in Egypt, where, as a tank commander, he went on to take part in some of the toughest battles of the Desert War, including the most famous of them all, El Alamein, the turning point that marked the beginning of the end for Rommel's Afrika Korps. But for 3RTR there would be many more months of gruelling encounters with the enemy before the fall of Tunis signalled the end of the war in Africa. Somehow, Jock survived them all and his eyewitness account of the Desert War, as seen from the turret of his tank, has been hailed as one of the finest ever put on record.Without exaggeration and with remarkable candour, he conveys the physical and mental strain this type of warfare placed upon its participants, fleshing out his narrative with a great deal of interesting and unusual detail. The result is a unique insight into the life of a World War II 'tankie'.
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Author Jock Watt writes passionately first-hand about his experiences in the regiment from joining the army in 1937 to being demobbed in 1946. He describes his training, the passionate and intimate bonds formed by a crew who spend much of their time crammed into the small hull of a tank, the hi-jinx and jokes of his pals, but also the disaster and loss that comes from facing an enemy on the battlefield, the woefully inadequate equipment and tactics they usually had to deploy and the sometimes criminal negligence of commanders.
It is an endearing and personal tale that perhaps is not as well presented or descriptive as some other books or diaries exploring the tank war, but this is probably a symptom of the fact that author Jock Watt was clearly still very much emotionally effected by the events of his war, even when he came to write this book decades after it had finished, and that shines through in every page.
My only criticism - and I feel somewhat ashamed at pointing ANY criticisms at such an account - is that at times the book feels somewhat decompressed and lacking in detail. For example, Watts first action was in France and is covered in only a handful of pages which seem to indicate that he got off the ship in France, looked around at the devestation, endured an air raid and then immediately got back on the ship to be transported back to the British mainland.
Additionally, whilst the book is one of the few I have read to describe the actions of Britians armed forces in the defence of Greece and should be praised for this fact, once more Watts initial experience prior to the retreat of the British forces their is explained in only a few pages, at which point he reveals that the period described is actually a full two months in the field.
Watt is also quite sparse in his description of the workings of the various vehicles he commanded and the enemies he faced - something that is a mainstay of most books describing the tank war.
It is a very short book at only about 200 pages, and it seems likely that there could have been a lot more written about Watts experiences, although its apparent that writing the book at all seems to have been a very painful experience for the author, and whilst these are objectively faults, I feel a little bad for highlighting them.
A tankies travels is the authors account of his own experiences during WW2.
starting at the defeat at Dunkirk and finishing up in the heart of Germany with El Alamain thrown in between for good measure.
the author details every day experiences of tank warfare from making tea to taking shellfire and being straffed by the luftwaffe.
My personal faverate chapter is about his heroic escape from greece and crete. it is a book you really cant put down storys this good are usually only fictional but this one is true i never thought one man could go through so much jock watt is a true hero
The author manages to convey both the hardships and the comradeship of the royal tank regiment at war, with many a revealing anecdote. The highlights the rearguard action in Greece, and his escape to Crete, but the desert fighting is also very well covered.
His is an inspiring story, told in a matter of fact style, without heroics, but in such a way that you are almost in the tank with him every mile of the journey. And what a journey it was.
I heard about this book almost by accident, and I am glad I did. If you only buy one book on WW2 this year, make it this one.
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