Lot's of different pics of this sign.

Lot's of different pics of this sign.
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Tale of the Tank Named "Mystery Meat" A Tale of Pluck and Daring

Actually, its name was Fray Bentos and the mystery meat ("Eraser Meat" as my ex called Spam) was good old British Bully beef aka canned corned beef.
I made myself a sumptuous dinner of CB hash last evening after my delightful time of poking at Ayn Rand and her acolytes.
It occasioned quite a response (My shots at Ayn - not my hash) - 199 hits that came from good old Tam's site just last evening. More than double my normal traffic. Thanks, Sweetie.
A hint to any subsequent commenters (paraphrased): I already know enough about dog shit from picking it up off the lawn, rug, etc. that I'd feel completely justified in rejecting your assurances that it's a nice ice-cream topping - out of hand.
I wouldn't even give you a chance to argue your side.
So, back to the clubhouse where you can pet each other and say that you're still very, very smart for rationalizing a morally bankrupt world view.
But, I don't know. I'm just a... (Sentence completed by Mickey Rourke here).
And, apologies to any dog shit out there who felt unfairly impugned by comparison to Ayn Rand.
Back to the beef. "Bully" comes from the French bouilli "boiled". The French themselves had no use for the stuff and called it singe aka "monkey meat".
The Germans loved it. According to Remarque ("All Quiet on the Western Front") often raids were mounted just to rip some off.
Fray Bentos was a Mark IV Male meaning that, in addition to Lewis guns, it had a Naval six-pounder mounted in each sponson.
She was one of a section of four commanded by Captain Donald Richardson, a grocery retailer back in the world - possibly the reason for the name.
The actual tank commander was 2nd Lieutenant George Hill (And I'm not making this up).
The Captain was a veteran of earlier fighting albeit in the infantry and Hill was a newly promoted pre-war Territorial Color Sergeant who had also been in the shit.
For them, as well as the rest of the crew, the main gearsman, the two six-pounder gunners, the right and left gearsmen and the two Lewis gunners, in was their first time fighting a tank. The tank's maiden voyage as well.
Their shot at glory occurred about a month into the pointless debacle (General Sir Douglas Haig's idea... again. Did you know he was the model for Piglet in the Winnie the Pooh books? Not really) affectionately referred to as "The Third Battle of Ypres".
The numerical classification was just a sop for those historical purists who demand a name for everything.
In reality, the Ypres Salient was the site of a constant, non-stop battle - for four years. A bight in the front about six by eight miles that still contains 40,000 unrecovered bodies.
This latest of Haig's fuck-ups ("I've never met a massed infantry assault against entrenched machine-guns that I didn't like") goes by the more general name of a village, one of many, obliterated by the war, Passchendaele.
Haig's plan, as always was that the PBI (poor bloody infantry) would break the line so the glorious cavalry could rush in and consolidate the position.
He was sure it would work this time because he'd heard that the Passchendaele Ridge was dry and sandy and perfect for the cav.
Helping old Doug along, assisting in his dimbulbitude were the facts that the entire area was reclaimed marshland and was only farm able thanks to extensive drainage systems that had not done well in the previous three years.
Another turd in the old boy's punchbowl was that the August during his attack (It went from July to November 1917) turned out to be the rainiest on record.
I'd venture to say that most pictures you find of Tommy Atkins ass deep in mud are from Passchendaele.

Okay. Enter the brave little tank named after a food-like substance ready, along with it's contemporaries, to kick some Teutonic butt.
Shorty before dawn on August 22, they moved forward. Capt. Richardson had chosen to ride in Lt Hill's tank and on they went.
Their objectives were a set of "farms". They'd been farms in an earlier, simpler time but now they were reinforced concrete bunkers.
They made some headway on Somme Farm and left the following infantry to mop up while the moved on to Gallipoli Farm.
They had been doing better than most of the other tanks as most of them were ditched behind them.
Hill's eyes were swollen from the strain of trying to see in the smoke so Richardson offered to relieve him at the helm.
Hill agreed but, while moving out of the drivers seat, a burst of machine gun fire sprayed the viewing port.
Blinded by splinters, Hill inadvertently pushed the throttle forward and the tank found itself tilting precariously to the right with all traction lost.
Not a problem. It's just a simple matter of hooking up the unditching beam and... unditching.
This simple process required nothing more than that someone go outside, on top of the tank, free the unditching beam (a chunk of iron-bound timber longer than the tank was wide) from its moorings and the hook it to the tracks.
Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezie - in principle.
The lad sent topside to do the work however turned out to be the victim of a single, short burst of MG fire.
Another volunteered to go out and give it a shot but Richardson decided that taking out the MG was a smarter plan.
It had been close so the uphill sponson's gun soon took it out.
The same sponson gunner was aiming again when a shrapnel shell exploded just outside sending a giant splinter through his jaw and into his chest.
It was 6:45 AM. They'd been in action all of three hours and Richardson and Hill were wounded. The gunner was nearly dead and the poor fellow who tried the unditching trip was dead as well.

At this point, the German artillery had gotten the range and began sending rounds out to them.
They shook things up, making the tank settle lower to the point that the gun in the right sponson was buried in the mud.
While the right sponson was heading down, of course the left was pointing increasingly skyward until, even at maximum depression, it could hit little.
The ARTY wasn't quite equal to the task since Fray Bentos had managed to ditch herself on the back slope of a large crater so, as far as conventional artillery, she was reasonably protected.
Early in the afternoon things quieted down and another of the gunners offered to give the unditching gear another shot. Richardson agreed and invited himself along to help.
Alas, the body of Brady (The unfortunate who had first tried the idea) was jammed up against the rear door - along with the unditching beam, knocked loose by the shelling.
Stuck. Well and truly.
So, at this point, the only way out of the tank was through the door of the left sponson which, inconveniently, was now virtually horizontal and in full view of the enemy.
At this time, being out of ideas otherwise, they decided to start her up and see if maybe she could pull herself out.
It didn't work. Worse, it made the tank lurch further to the right knocking the breech of the six-pounder into the chest of the other gunner.
At this point, one of the Lewis gunners began firing. Some Germans were forming up around Gallipoli Farm for a counter-attack.
The Lewis gun, being protected by the horn of the tank dispersed them.
The day wore on and the big steel box started baking in the August sun.
Long about evening it occurred to them that none of them had eaten. They broke out the rations: ration biscuits and - wait for it - bully beef and chowed down.
Okay, to make things just a little worse, the detonations around the tank took on the tones of trench mortars, low velocity but high trajectory. Just the thing for a target on a reverse slope.
Now fire is starting to come from, of all places, the rear.
The lads in the trenches behind, assuming that the tank was abandoned, were peppering it with rifle fire.
The ultimate (bad) outcome was that they'd bring up a field gun and take Fray Bentos out entirely to prevent its being used as a German strong point.
The tank's second in command, one Sgt. Missen, an old regular said he was tired of sitting and volunteered to move to the rear to clue them up.
Waiting until it was dark enough to not be shot but light enough to not get lost, off he went.
He arrived, wounded but the message was received.
Nighttime came and the 18 tons of steel that had been so unbearably hot in daytime gave up all that heat and turned into a cold, steel box.
In the dark the worry became that German sappers would come to mine the tank and, sometime in the very early morning, the left sponson door was jerked open and a figure was seen against the night sky with a stick grenade.
Richardson shot him with his pistol and the German and grenade fell off and those inside the tank slammed the door and latched it from the inside.
The grenade went off just outside and the concussion sent the sponson (mounted on tracks to be retracted for rail transport) flying into the tank where it smacked the shoulder of one of the gearsmen.
It was determined that they wouldn't be safe if they were completely blind so they left the rear door (blocked by Brady and the beam) open enough to see/shoot a revolver through.

Two Germans carrying a box between them were spotted and put to flight.
Richardson then decided that the left sponson door should remain open because, otherwise they were blind toward the front.
What this entailed was holding was holding an armored door - maybe two by four feet - open just a few inches - against gravity.
Come morning they decided that they could still make themselves useful but they were thirsty.
Since they probably weren't leaving under their own steam, they started drinking the radiator water.
Later, early afternoon, the crew member watching at the sponson door reported that he saw troops assembling. They were out of reach for the Lewis gun but a rifle, poked through the crack between the sponson door and its jamb sent them packing.
Later that day they saw another group of infantry assembling and broke them up.
Night fell - again - and, long about 1:00 AM they saw figures moving to the rear of them.
They watched anxiously wishing that one side or the other would send up a flare to illuminate just who the fuck was out there.
Richardson was just getting ready to send a round into them on spec when a flare went up from British lines.
They were Germans and so Tommys in the rear took care of them.
After this, they fired lights off at regular intervals.
In the morning the crew fended off a half-hearted attack in the front of the tank but the food was running low and the radiator water didn't seem to be doing the job.
It was decided that it was time to hike on home.
What followed was a looong wait for dusk during which time the mortars were getting closer.
By this time, all but one of the crew was dead or wounded but they'd stayed in action for nearly three days during which time they'd broken up three German counter-attacks. Most of that time being ditched and "helpless".
All the surviving folks got back. The lads - unasked, it had been drilled into them - unshipped the tank's Lewis guns before going home.
Richardson's last act before passing out was to make sure that the Lewis guns were properly received by the infantry.
Taken primarily from "The Boiler Plate War" by John Foley.
It's one of the books you can have the time to read absent any time wasted with tripe like "Atlas Shrugged".
Fray Bentos is the name of a town in Uruguay.
The bully beef I ate last night (and this morning), Libby's, originated in...
Fray Bentos.

Update:
Interior shots of a Mark IV just like Fray Bentos.
First photo, taken from along the right side of the engine, shows the driver's position.
They're Brits - it's on the wrong side.
You can see that this is a male by the ammo racks for the six-pounder in the sponson to the right.
Next up; the Commander's seat.
Notice that they would have had to fight over the Lewis gun.
And, why the Lewis gun instead of a belt-fed Vickers which would have had more sustained fire capability?
It was because the drums of Lewis ammo were easier to stow than belts.
Now, this is obviously a "clean and well-lighted place". The lighting most certainly to make the photo possible.
Regarding clean; prior to slowly sinking into the mud and having eight people living and dying in it for two days and nights, Lt. Hill's tank was said to be immaculate as would befit a former color sergeant.

1 comment:

René Boretto said...

Hello friend. I am Rene Boretto, fron Fray Bentos city, Uruguay, the place whoo begin to make the food (the corned beef Fray Bentos). I have a web page about "A tank named Fray Bentos" in https://sites.google.com/site/eltanquefraybentos/.
Please, contact me in rboretto@gmail.com to commet much more about this theme.

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