Unditching Centurion Tanks
Portsea Beach Recovery
In 1962 the Regiment B Sqn participated in an exercise at Portsea, Victoria in which we were doing beach landings from the LSM Clive Steel.
- On the way into the beach the LSM drops a kedge anchor to pull itself off,
- It runs up onto the beach as far as possible and drops the front door and
- if the water was of such a depth the tank drives off and up the beach.
During one landing one of the callsigns dropped into a soft patch and could not get traction. It was sitting on its belly with the tracks free to move. It was high tide with the vehicle in about two feet (60cm) of salt water.
The ARV of which I was a crew member was on the beach for such emergencies. The crew commander was Len Golding, another Pom from the School of REME who transferred to us. Importantly for the story, WO2 Ken Corrigan-Houston was observing. Ken, ex REME, was an experienced Recovery WO; Boy I learned a lot from him
We hauled out the winch rope and attached it to the front of the vehicle and started to haul the tank out. But the sand just built up in front as we pulled.
Ken called on us to stop and use this method
- He made us put some large gun planks we carried, under the winch ropes on top of the sand that had built up in front of the tank;
- Meanwhile he had the tank crew knock a track pin half way between the front idler wheel and the first roadwheel of each track about a third of the way out, that is from the outside of the track to the center of the vehicle. This left most of the pin to hold the track together. To the protuding ends of each track pin he attached a tow rope laid out in a straight line from the front of the vehicle...to keep them in place he used some good old no8 fencing wire.
- He then instructed the driver to put the veh in neutral and with engine running, attempt, with each steering lever, to neutral turn the vehicle. If you remember the reaction of the vehicle tracks to this, it helps to understand what happened; the tow ropes were dragged under the vehicle by the tracks with no movment of the vehicle until they were under the final drive
- at this point the driver stopped his action
- the ropes were attached to the rear bollards
- the track pins driven home, and
- and the winch reattached to the ropes that were now under the vehicle.
When the pull was applied with the tank driving in first gear, it had the affect of breaking the suction and lifting the bogged tank over the sand build up.