H.E.M.J. (Bert) Ummels - Passed away in Feb 2017

Bert was B & A Sqns from 2 Apr 1969 until 1 Apr 1970 in SVN.

Following is an extract from Bruce Cameron's book "Canister 'on' Fire"

3Alpha reversed slowly, gun over the rear of the tank, Clark and Ummels peering intently into the gloom in an effort to detect any disturbance in the surface of the track to their front, 100m, 200m … nearly there! Clark recalls thinking that ‘we had almost made it across the low ground’, when, suddenly ‘the rear of the tank lifted off the ground in a massive explosion and a thick cloud of dust enveloped us. A wall of flames erupted in front of me.’ Within seconds, the whole of the rear of the tank was on fire. Looking down into the turret, all Ummels could see were ‘flames licking at [his] boots’.

Barlow’s perspective from the gunner’s seat was even more dramatic: ‘sheets of flame [were] coming from the engine compartment into the turret (around my boots and all the ammo below them).’ Those in the vehicles behind feared the worst: ‘There was an almighty explosion, a huge cloud of dust pierced by a sheet of flame … the tank disappeared.’ For Roberts in 3Bravo, ‘it was a long count as I waited for the crewmen to leave the vehicle’.

Clark’s immediate concern was for his driver: ‘it took a second to recall that I had been travelling in reverse.’ Having quickly ‘taken stock’, he informed his troop leader that they were bailing out and coming back on foot. Clark had the presence of mind to unpin the commander’s .30cal machine gun and bring it with him, denying the enemy a very attractive ‘prize’. As Barlow scrambled up from inside, he heard shots. Just moments later, when he saw the operator fall off the turret, he thought the worst – ambush!

The realisation that Ummels had not been shot, he had just slipped, came as a relief. As the gunner, Barlow was much less conscious of what was happening outside, compared with the other crew members. Incredibly, there were no apparent wounds from the mine and the crew were all able to make it to the safety of the other vehicles. Some of the credit for their successful bail-out, must go to Smith for remembering the driver’s responsibility to set off the fixed fire extinguisher system. He would have thought himself lucky to have been able to exit at what had become the rear of the vehicle, rather than the front as normal.

Just how lucky he really was, however, was not apparent until next morning. The mine had been a big one, made up of slabs of explosive, coupled together with a number of artillery ‘blinds’. It was also offset to go off under the hull, rather than detonating under one of the tracks. The force of the explosion buckled and split the hull, as well as severely damaging the right rear suspension station; leaking petrol ignited, causing a fire which immediately engulfed the engine and transmission compartments. There is no doubt that if the tank had not been reversing, the crew (particularly the driver) would have been seriously wounded. As was expected, the Centurion had to be returned to Australia for rebuild.