On December 6th the men of A and B Squadrons selected for “Special training”along with additional crews from Regimental Head Quarters left for two weeks of “Most Secret” training at Great Yarmouth. The Facility here was known as “A Wing” of the 79th Armoured Division. Upon arriving at the camp, all personnel were mustered in the mess and briefed by representatives of the Field Security Police. They impressed upon all ranks the extreme importance of maintaining the strictest security around all aspects of the training in which they were about to take part. All mail would be rigorously reviewed and, police patrols would be constantly on the look out in all public houses, cafés, and shops for any breach and that anyone caught would be subject to court-martial. All ranks were then made to read and sign a statement outlining specific security provisions and the consequences for failure to abide by them. At this point they received a briefing on the nature of the training that they were about to undergo and each person was given a registered pass without which there would be no admittance to the training compound.
The next day, before first light, the troops were convoyed to the training area. Located in a thick wood, this was a fresh water lake known as “Fritton Decoy”. The tank park consisted of a single avenue cut through the dense woods with individual tank stalls cut in on each side. All of this was covered by huge camouflage nets. Here the crews were introduced to the Valentine Duplex Drive tank. Trooper (later Sergeant) Jim Paisley’s first thought upon seeing the DDs was “They’ll never float”. As might be expected, nothing in their previous experience had prepared the soldiers for this training. There was a great deal to master in just two short weeks and despite some lingering doubts as to the serviceability of these machines not completely assuaged by the confidence of the instructors, the Hussars approached the task with their usual aplomb.
Not a confidence inspiring introduction... This floats??
The initial training focused on understanding the theory of the vehicle and its equipment. Prior to commencing any other training, the soldiers practiced a set of ridged safety protocols known as the “Disembarkation Drill” repeatedly to the point of it becoming absolutely instinctive. The importance of the perfect execution of this drill given the perilous nature of their mission was not lost on the soldiers.
The duplex drive tank operated on the theory of displacement in the same way as steel ships float. The tank was surrounded by a sheet metal platform with a pointed bow that was affixed at the level of the track guards. Attached to this was a light waterproof canvas screen. A series of tubular steel frames mounted horizontally gave shape to the screen when erected. The screen was made ridged and held in the raised position by a series of folding metal struts, and vertical rubber air pillars raised into place by compressed air. With the screen erected the tank appeared very much like a smaller version of the landing craft used by assaulting infantry. In the water the screen gave the 18-ton tank approximately 3 feet of freeboard. When collapsed, it would fold like a concertina, and enable the tank to continue in its combat role. The tank was steered through the water in one of three methods. The driver could do it from his position by means of a quadrant control using a periscope which protruded over the top of the screen to see. The Crew Commander could use the intercom to give the driver directions from the turret also using a tall periscope to see or the Crew Commander could do it while standing on the back deck using a manual tiller like a sailboat.
Valentine Duplex Drive
Undoubtedly, the most important aspect of this initial training from a confidence and morale point of view, given that the crews were expected to assault an enemy beach through shot and shell conveyed in a multi ton steel box buoyed only by a thin canvas screen, was done in the Amphibious Tank Escape Training Facility. Here, the crews learned how to use the Davis Submarine Escape Apparatus to escape from the hull of a Valentine tank submerged in a 15-foot tank of water. To their great credit not one person even among the non-swimmers balked at this training and once again the 1st Hussars had the distinction of becoming the first regiment to become 100% qualified on this equipment.
Amphibious Tank Escape Training Facility
Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus (Amphibious Tank Escape Apparatus)
This wartime video shows the training steps involved in the proper use of the D.S.E.A./A.T.E.A. A tank is claustrophobic at the best of times. One can only imagine what it must have been like for the crew using this bulky equipment and exiting the tight hatches of a Sherman for the first time under 10-15 feet of water especially for a non swimmer.