So earlier today, I got a little bored and was reading through a couple of my old books about WW2. And I found this interesting little section in "Iron Fist: Classic Armoured Warfare Case Studies", by Bryan Perrett:

In case you can't read it, it describes a gas attack by Japanese troops against British tanks in April of 1942. Two incidents are mentioned: one where a phial is thrown but misses, and one where it is thrown into a Stuart tank (the phial used in these attacks.)

The whole crew, except for the commander Sgt Campbell, is incapacitated, with Campbell being unscathed as a result of having his head out of the turret during the attack. Campbell then takes back control of the tank, and removes it from the road, before turning it's guns on the site of the ambush. For this action he received a Military Medal.

Naturally, this story peaked my interest. It's fairly odd for one thing: gas was nowhere near as used in combat in WW2 as it had been in WW1, and it's fairly well known that one of the reasons no one broke it out on a large scale for combat purposes, against the other major powers, was due to fear of retaliation. It therefore seems odd that Japanese forces would utilise gas grenades only once, and never bother with them again, as surely if you're going that far you might as well keep it up.

It's also a bizzare method of disabling a tank, as I'm sure many would agree. Thirdly, there are no citations directly, but it is very specific on the details: 16th April, Sgt Campbell, Burma, Military Medal. These details are the kind of thing that can be checked, so I wanted to.

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So now I'm interested. It's a odd story, and I want to know more. I get a couple of my history nerd friends to help me out, and we start to dig deeper.

First place we find this story replicated, is Tank Tracks to Rangoon, also by Bryan Perrett. It describes the incident again in a little more detail. Same author though, so we can't take it as truth, and it also doesn't give any sources on this incident. We gotta look elsewhere.

Next answer: we go hunting through old newspaper archives, since they'd include this sort of thing. Unfortunately, I failed to make any progress on this front. No mention of our Mr Campbell.

Eventually, we try going for medal records. We get to this site. We try to find it: no dice.

We've almost given up by now, but someone points out a name in Tank Tracks To Rangoon: a Lt John Parry, who was the commander of Sgt Campbell. I plug this name into Google with "Burma" added in a last ditch hope, and while I don't find any accounts written by him, I do find something else.

According to the site it's a list of all recommendations for honours given in the region we're looking for. This seems like our place. So we pop in Campbell, and we get… 18 results. Luckily Perrett gave us a fair few details about him so we can sort through them, and we get: Cecil Campbell, a Serjeant in the 7th Hussars who got a Military Medal in 1942. There's also a link to the recommendation, number 0988.

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This takes us to here. (for those who for whatever reason can't get into that, here's a screenshot)

Nothing we didn't know already…but there is an image of the record. If anywhere contains a mention of this incident, it will be the record of the recommendation. Now I could pay £3.50 (??????) to access this without a watermark, but I'm lazy and poor, so that won't happen. Instead, we're gonna do it the hard way.

For those who want to strain their eyes, a link to the image.

It's not ideal. But you can just read enough. It says:

"the enemy attacked with gas grenades. All members of the crew except Sgt Campbell, including the driver, were rendered insensible. Although himself feeling sick and giddy, Sgt Campbell climbed into the driver's seat and drove the tank back 100 yards. Sgt Campbell then manned the gun, and in spite of enemy mortar fire, succeeded with his troop leader in inflicting casualties on parties of the enemy in a building and in the open."

So, that's the story confirmed. Despite it seeming fairly outlandish, and despite (as far as I can tell) only one book covering this incident, it was completely true!

It's honestly fascinating that this actually occured, and even more so that no one talks about it. Hats off to Perrett for finding it, and thanks must also go to Geoff Sullivan, who is credited with creating the website that allowed me to find his citation. Finally, credit goes to my friends for joining me in such a bizarre search for a small detail in 2 paragraphs of one book.

Source: reddit post


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