In Magic–Top Secret, Maskelyne claims the Americans sent over combat crews to test out their lend-leased ‘Honey’ tanks. Maskelyne claims he met one of the American crews involved.
This notion of covert American forces operating in Egypt many months before Pearl Harbour is intriguing. Could there be a kernel of truth to this story?
I ran the idea past American Army expert, Jonathan Gawne who replied: “I would doubt that actual combat crews were sent. However, I would think it highly likely that advisors and technicians were sent. This is a normal thing when new items are sent to a foreign country. Not just to train the men on the new tank, but to see how it holds up under combat and report back ... .It may well be that one or two of them were in a tank when it went into combat so see how it actually fared, but I would seriously doubt an entire American crew ... Roosevelt may have wanted us in the war, but he could not afford such a blatant ‘ first move’. If an American crew were captured, it would pose a major propaganda victory for the Germans.”
Gawne also pointed out that the Americans would have difficulty adjusting to the British fighting methods and coping with the unfamiliar radio jargon. He also thought it likely that there were more trained British tank crews on hand than actual working tanks. Shortage of men was therefore not an issue.
However, Maskelyne’s account in Magic–Top Secret at least anticipated the political risks: “Everyone saw to it that no Honey was captured or knocked out where the enemy could get it, and no US dead were left where they could be identified. Possibly they wore other uniforms? I would not know. None were captured or properly identified, though I should think the Axis had their dark suspicions.”
Maskelyne also says the Americans were amazed at how under-equipped the British Army was. They were aghast at the scarcity of tank transporters. “They didn’t understand how Britain ever won any wars. I don’t myself.”
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