Recovery Remembered

Author: Pete Mclaughlin, former SSgt Recovery Mechanic, Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (REME)

After reading a recent issue of your magazine, my first sight of the Craftsman for over 10 years, I decided to forward photographs of a recovery tasking in 1993 at Hohne ranges, Germany.
This was the first time that Hohne ranges had been allowed to host dry armoured training since WW2.
I was the SSgt Recovery Mechanic with 3 RTR LAD REME when the Armoured Brigade moved across the impact area on an advance to contact phase, unfortunately the quickly built causeway was not suitable for Challenger MBTs. Consequently six MBTs were bogged down during the advance, pictured is the tank that proved to be most stubborn. Various winch pulls were attempted using two Chieftain Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicles (ARRV) all to no avail.
We hade to eventually call in a Royal Engineer MSO plant troop to assist in damming an area around the stricken tank, then excavate around and under this fully laden MBT of 70 tons.
Heavy duty water pumps were used to clear some of the swamp water. Finally, a bed of huge old railway sleepers was laid to assist the tank tracks. We started to winch at 0500 hrs and to everyone's disbelief it steadfastly refused to move a fraction. Time was running out quickly as the water pumps were beginning to seize and the dam starting to collapse.
As a last resort we used Oxy/Acetylene to cut both tank tracks. On re-commencement of winching we all prayed that this was not going to be the first loss of a Challenger since they came into service.
During this phase the longest serving German range warden came over and told us that it was unlikely to succeed as he could remember a SS Tiger Panzer going down in 1944 and staying there. This cheered us all up no end!
At last, everything crossable was crossed and we began the final winch pull of 120 tons, this was the maximum pull possible.
After numerous winch attempts the vehicle casualty began to slowly climb out of its temporary overnight home. The reason the tank did not want to move became clear as a collapsed disused reinforced concrete bunker released its tight grip on both tracks.
The Challenger was immediately backloaded to base workshops to a drying hanger to hopefully save sensitive equipment.

First published in The Craftsman Magazine

The Challenger off causeway at Hohne ranges

Royal Engineers MSO use heavy duty pumps to clear it

Area dammed and excavated