Nicholas Wide, WWII hero who kept shelling the enemy from his Sherman after it being hit twice by an 88mm which killed the driver

Nicholas Wide, WWII hero who shelled enemy from his driver-less tank

Photo story (Clockwise from left): (1) Photograph of WWII hero Nicholas Wide (2) Added welded plates to the hull and turret of the modified M4 Sherman tanks on 9th September 1944 (3) A German MG 08 machine gun is on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa in 2009.

The largest amphibious assault in the world history started on 6th June 1944; the day we know as the D-Day Normandy landings. The airborne landings of twenty four thousand American, Canadian and British airborne forces was carried out in the early hours. The amphibious Allied landing of armored divisions and infantry started from 6:30 am. Due to inclement weather and an effective deception plan, German defenses were jolted.

In total 156,000 Allied soldiers landed on D-Day, opposed by some 10,000 Germans, sheltered in the formidable Atlantic wall . The Allied forces suffered around 12,000 casualties that day, the German’s 4,000-9,000 casualties. The Daily Telegraph reported on the Normandy heroics of British lieutenant Nicholas Wide on D-Day+1.

On 7th June 1944, Nick Wide was just 21 when he was leading a troop of C Squadron of 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards; carrying out the Normandy Invasion at the Gold Beach. Wide’s troop was sent ahead of the squadron.

His M4 Sherman tank was hit two times by the German 88mm anti tank gun fire near Audrie railway station. The driver and co driver of the tank were killed in the attack. But the driverless M4 Sherman careered on and was advancing towards a railway cutting. Despite the severely adverse circumstances, Wide fought out the enemy guns with high explosive shells. Nick, his wireless operator and gunner bailed out just before the railway cutting soon afterwards.

Nicholas Wide and his men then crossed a field under German MG 08 Spandau machine gun fire and made their way to a wood surrounded by enemy infantry and later managed to return to his squadron.

He received a Military Cross immediately after the action. In citation for his MC, it was said that ‘Nicholas Wide had piloted his men through enemy lines & returned to his squadron on foot within four hours’. Nick’s own account focused more on the field’s smelly mayweeds rather than the enemy firing. He was quite allergic to mayweeds. He was also rueful that there hadn’t been any sign of a replacement tank despite assurances from his colonel that he was going to get one within next morning.

Soon afterwards, Nicholas Wide demonstrated superb fortitude when a courageous medical officer plunged into a farm track to recover the wounded. The medical officer had taken the risk through German defenses. The doctor was shot. Nick had left his tank amidst straight firing line and recovered the body of the doctor. Wide’s wartime friend and colleague, now General Sir Robert Ford, called him, ‘outstanding troop leader’.

The 4th/ 7th Royal Dragoon regiment was engaged in the heaviest of fighting since D-Day till the end of WWII. 141 of the regiment’s tanks were damaged or destroyed beyond local repair and three of those had been commanded by Nicholas Wide. The heavy damages resulted into re-equipping of M4 Sherman DD tanks. DD stands for Duplex Drive. Plates were welded to the turrets and hulls of the tanks. The improvised armors were more a psychological boost than an actual protection according to Nick.

Video story: Analysis of M4 Sherman tank and its design flaws.

Nicholas Wide was born on 7th May 1923 at Nottingham. He was the younger son of Congregational Church minister Reverend Leonard Wide and minister’s wife Kathleen. Nick Wide studied at Silcoates School, St John’s College and Cambridge. Before taking his Cambridge degree Nick went to Sandhurst and he was commissioned into the 4th/ 7th Royal Dragoon Guards regiment after his qualities had been spotted by a staff there.

Nicholas Wide served in Palestine in 1946. As an instructor, he went to Bovington afterwards. Then he returned to Cambridge in order to complete his degree. Wide married Ruth Bird ‘Bunty’ by this time. At the age of nine, he met Ruth while playing cricket. She was the daughter of a shoe manufacturer Thomas Bird. Thomas later became chairman of Dolcis. Wide worked for Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries. He later set up his successful foot-ware business. His factory manufactured children’s shoes. He was diagnosed with a nerve cell damage disease called multiple sclerosis during the 1970s. He had to sell his business. Then he moved to the south coast where his wife devotedly looked after him. Aged 85, he died on 10th August 2008. Nicholas Wide is survived by his wife Ruth and their three sons.

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE