Old Betsie

Soldiers of many nationalities in the Second World War came to feel great affection for the machinery in which they entrusted their lives. Canadian soldiers were no exception, and everything from jeeps to tanks sometimes acquired names and art work, assigning the object a personality of its own. In the Calgary Highlanders, the most obvious example was Old Betsie.

Old Betsie, photographed in July 1945 Image courtesy the Calgary Highlanders MuseumOn 20 July 1943, the Calgary Highlanders received their first 6-pounder anti-tank guns to replace the obsolete 2-pounders. One of these guns was dubbed “Old Betsie”, and she soon helped the Calgary Highlanders win a competition at the Lydd ranges. By finishing first in a divisional anti-tank shoot, the anti-tank platoon won itself a prize of ten pounds sterling and a party to celebrate.

In January 1944, the gun was almost lost during a demonstration of kapok floats on the River Ouse. Other demonstrations tested Old Betsie, submerging her in mud and water, and in one instance the gun was kept in action in such a state for over two weeks. Old Betsie emerged none the worse for wear, and went to Normandy in July 1944 with the Regiment.

On 18 July, Old Betsie went into action for the first time. Paired with another gun, she engaged German Panther tanks and assisted in breaking up an enemy attack. However, German shellfire destroyed the other gun, and Betsie’s entire crew were killed or wounded, and another infantry attack overran Betsie’s position. Two days later, the Highlanders’ anti-tank platoon sent a carrier behind German lines, hooked Betsie up and escaped through shell and machinegun fire to bring her back.

As the other original guns of the six-gun anti-tank platoon were destroyed and replaced, Old Betsie soldiered on. At St. Leonards, she destroyed a German 88 and halftrack, killing 27 Germans. During the Scheldt battle, Betsie was manhandled and used with good effect against German infantry positions, and her Gun Sergeant won the Military Medal. In the Reichswald and Hochwald battles, Old Betsie was used to cover the advance of the Carrier platoon.

As the war came to a close and the Highlanders were approaching Oldenburg, in Germany, another German halftrack fell victim to Betsie, and this was to be the final shot fired in anger during the Second World War not just by this anti-tank gun, but by the entire battalion.

From "The Maple Leaf" scan courtesy of Warrant Officer WE Storey, CDBetsie was the only survivor of the original six guns adopted by the anti-tank platoon (she also outlived every single vehicle originally assigned to the anti-tank platoon), and in all had fired 1500 rounds, 1200 of those at the enemy. She never suffered a breakdown and did not spend a single minute in a workshop outside of routine modification work. Of the original fifty-five men of the anti-tank platoon, only thirteen were still with the platoon on VE Day, and only four of those thirteen had not been wounded at some point in their service.

Old Betsie today resides at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

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